Lecturers to spy on foreign students

The government is asking universities to monitor international students as part of its new points-based immigration scheme.

The plan includes licences for universities and colleges and increased scrutiny to ensure people on student visas are studying full-time. These precautions are being put in place to curb abuse of student visas, according to the UK Border Agency’s website. People seeking to gain entry to the United Kingdom will sometimes use legitimate student visas to enter the country legally but instead of studying, go into full-time, illegal employment. In other cases, people obtain visas using the names of bogus colleges.

Universities will be required to report any student from outside the European Union who misses more than 10 seminars or pieces of required coursework to the Border Agency, who may investigate the student for a breach of their student visa conditions.

Universities will also have to apply for a Border Agency license to teach international students. Part of the license requires universities to “sponsor” international students and to take on a greater role in ensuring compliance with visa regulations.

The Border Agency website instructs educators, “as far as possible, you will need to make sure your students comply with their immigration conditions. You will need to… keep records on each student, and… report any changes to us, such as if they do not turn up for their studies. If you do not comply… you can have your licence downgraded… or withdrawn.”

The University of Warwick states, “the University will of course comply with any national legal requirements.”

The University does not foresee the new plan affecting its recruitment of international students. “Recruitment will continue to be driven by the quality of the academic experience,” it says.

Regarding its transition to the immigration scheme, the University says: “we are still preparing but the full detail of what is expected from Universities is not yet available. Any new system will probably begin to operate in the next academic year. There will be a cost to us but we do not know what it will be yet.”

Academics have expressed concern about the plan. A letter written to the Guardian by a group of professors, lecturers, and lawyers says the scheme will harm the student-teacher relationship by putting tutors in a “police-like” role.

Students are also upset. One German student, who as a European national will not be subject to the new rules, thinks the scheme is “far too exaggerated. There’s no reason for a national law that will cause loads of unnecessary bureaucracy, unnecessary costs that will sooner or later be paid by the students and maybe even prevent people from studying.”

He continues, “it seems that the European countries and especially Britain try to equal the US in its fight against non-existent threats, [like] immigration.” He cites as an example “coast patrols in the south of Europe that force would-be immigrants [from Africa] to take dangerous routes into the European Union, which causes many to die.”

He says he would have “seriously considered” not coming to study in the UK if the new rules were in place for him.

Amelia Ayer, an exchange student from the United States, also has misgivings about the plan.

“I understand why the government feels the need to implement these precautions,” she says. “But I think that there must be a better way to go about it. I consider it an invasion of privacy and far too overbearing.”

She also thinks the plan could affect students’ decisions to come to the UK, and how they behave when they arrive. “If I got contacted by the Border Agency saying something along the lines of, ‘you missed too many seminars,’ that’s going to have an effect on how I live and study here. I think that the way you study is a personal choice, and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to monitor your students in a country.”

With the new restrictions in place, she “would’ve been more careful about going to seminars and doing work, but under those circumstances it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s not like I’m working here – it’s not why I came here, it’s not why I got a visa.”

The new visa requirements go into effect in March 2009.


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