Ill-conceived checks a passport to distrust (1 of 2)

October 11, 2012

Scott Poynting and Ann Singleton's opinion piece ("You look foreign: bring your passport, it's what the UKBA would want", 4 October) highlights the dangers of unintentional racism if higher education institutions do not properly consider their processes for meeting UK Border Agency requirements.

As a sector we should concentrate on welcoming and encouraging international staff and students, and while institutions do need to comply with UKBA rules, they can do so in an appropriate, considered manner.

Although we can all understand the pressure on universities to ensure that their licences to sponsor overseas students are not revoked, the institutions also need to ensure that they do not assume, for example, that someone is subject to UKBA checks simply because of their appearance and/or name. Those individuals who are subject to such checks must be treated with dignity and respect and must be fully supported by their institutions.

Immigration functions are exempt from the Equality Act 2010, but they must be carried out in a fair and equitable manner. Quite aside from equality legislation, all institutions can foster a culture that encourages top-quality learning and research, allowing all staff and students to thrive. An ill-conceived approach to visa checks that implies that being "foreign" equals "potentially illegal" will lead to an atmosphere heavy with suspicions of distrust, unfairness and unintentional discrimination.

The Equality Challenge Unit recently received more than 1,400 responses to a survey of international staff in UK higher education (the full report is due later this year) that highlight their continuing struggles to overcome stereotyping and the assumptions held by UK colleagues. As a sector we can try to reduce these barriers rather than increase them.

David Ruebain, Chief executive, Equality Challenge Unit

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