Academics at the University of Birmingham have demanded transparency from the institution over a potential tightening of its policy on the monitoring of foreign staff.
Last June, Times Higher Education reported that the university’s human resources department had issued a letter to international staff stating that any individual who failed to report their attendance as well as any time spent off campus on a weekly basis would have their “name passed to the UK Border Agency”.
It now appears that foreign staff at the institution will have to report attendance on a daily basis.
A briefing document, seen by THE, on the university’s new finance and human resources processes states that “sponsored migrants will need to record their attendance in the new system each day, by completing a time card”.
“At the end of the week their line manager will be required to validate the time card. If any of the details are incorrect they will need to ensure they are raised with the individual and resolved,” it adds.
A spokesman at the University of Birmingham said that the guidance was sent out in error and that it was “not expecting non-European Union staff to check in on a daily basis”. He added that this would be clarified to staff.
However, foreign academics said that they are still being trained to report their attendance daily, while a step-by-step guide that is still on the university’s intranet, seen by THE, says that staff can submit the data on a weekly basis but must enter the hours worked each day and “daily location details” if they were not at the university’s campus.
Vice-chancellor Sir David Eastwood sent an email to staff on 21 January announcing that the launch of the system would be postponed from February 2019 to June 2019, but it said that training on the new system would continue and did not state that any of the policies would change.
James Brackley, president of Birmingham’s University and College Union branch, said that a number of members had raised concerns.
“Colleagues who have attended the training told us that they were advised to complete the time sheets daily, so we don’t think it was an error,” he said.
“The existing monitoring system is already something we feel is discriminatory. The new proposals appear to make this more regular, introduce an extra layer of more detailed line management, and seem to require more detailed disclosure of how non-EU staff have spent their time – none of which is really necessary under the visa requirements.”
One foreign academic at Birmingham, who wished to remain anonymous, said that she has not received any clarification from the university that the policy change was sent out in error. She added that the policy was “really unpleasant” and made her feel that international staff were “not trusted”.
Another foreign scholar said that the policy “doesn’t seem to be the requirement of the Home Office, which is to report someone if they have had an unauthorised absence of 10 days or more”.
“The amount of time it would take to fill in a daily time sheet when you’re across four or five different places is really onerous,” she added.