Academics criticise university spy plan

Gregory Lewis 13 November 2008

Government plans to use universities to monitor international students have come under fire from lecturers and academics.
The new rules, expected to come into force next March, are designed to stop bogus student applications. All universities wishing to admit students from outside the EU would need to apply for a licence, which would oblige them to sponsor their visa applications.
Universities would have to report students who enrol on courses late and those who drop out, as well as those who miss 10 or more lectures or seminars.
They would also need to supply international students with ID cards and take their fingerprints. The students themselves would have to demonstrate that they can afford to pay the fees and other costs (estimated at £800 a month).
The Home Office said that legitimate universities have nothing to fear from the new rules.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Those who come to Britain must play by the rules and benefit the country. This new route for students will ensure we know exactly who is coming here to study and stamp out bogus colleges who facilitate the lawbreakers.”
The authorities have identified around 300 such bogus institutions over the last three years.
Academics have raised concerns that the system of registering students will struggle to cope when the new rules are introduced, and that it is not the role of the universities to act as a proxy immigration police.
An open letter written to The Guardian by the head of the National Critical Lawyers group, Tony Benn, and representatives from the Birkbeck School of Law and the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers said: “This police-like surveillance is not the function of universities, and alters the educational relationship between students and their teachers in a very harmful manner.”
The letter also suggested that such rules, applying exclusively to non-EU students, could constitute a breach of the European convention on human rights.

Gregory Lewis
News Reporter