Border rules breach rights

November 13, 2008

The new immigration rules for overseas students and staff threaten university autonomy and breach human rights legislation ("Overseas student dropout figures must be reported", 6 November).

These rules would require universities to report to the Border Agency any absences by overseas students from lectures, seminars or tutorials or any failure of them to submit any assessment on time.

In other words, universities are being asked to act as an immigration officer to their students and to set up a surveillance unit in the university to keep watch over them. It is likely that institutions will be required to monitor overseas staff in the university as well.

These requirements go far beyond the present monitoring of student-progress systems in universities, which has as its basic purpose assisting students to reach their full academic potential.

In our view, it is hard to justify such detailed monitoring of overseas students even for immigration-control purposes. Surely the Border Agency just needs to know that students have registered and are at the university. It does not need to have this constant - for want of a better word - spying on students.

This police-like surveillance is not the function of universities, and it alters the educational relationship between students and their teachers in a very harmful manner. The role of university staff is to help students develop intellectually; it is not for them to sanction overseas students. Trust between students and staff is essential to the relationship.

The proposals are discriminatory because they apply only to overseas students and not to European Union students. In our view, they represent a possible breach of Article 8 (right to a private life) and Article 3 (degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.

We would urge universities, MPs and others to join us in publicly opposing these rules and calling for the Government to withdraw them.

Ian Grigg-Spall, Academic chair, National Critical Lawyers Group, Kent Law School, University of Kent Canterbury; Sally Hunt, General secretary, University and College Union and more than 200 academics.

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