Orwell 2.0? De Montfort proposes wi-fi surveillance

NUS says students would 'baulk' at automated attendance monitoring. John Morgan reports

May 26, 2011

Credit: Kobal
Practically 1984? Students would reject 'the prospect of being treated like inmates', the NUS says

With students expected to become increasingly consumerist after the hike in tuition fees, universities may start to view campus wi-fi as a strong selling point.

But plans at De Montfort University may give students pause for thought about the virtues of an ever-present internet connection: the institution is considering using its network to monitor attendance via electronic chips in students' ID cards.

Other universities have introduced electronic attendance monitoring, but an automated system using wi-fi would be unusual, and the National Union of Students warned that members would "baulk at the prospect of being treated like inmates under surveillance".

The plan is outlined in minutes from a meeting of De Montfort's executive board, which say that it would be "the most foolproof way of monitoring attendance".

The minutes record a pro vice-chancellor saying that she "fully supported the idea and noted that communications would be important to ensure that students carried their cards at all times".

A dean at the meeting added that it was "a very welcome suggestion given the current wasted resource involved with logging attendance manually".

The board "approved the proposal", according to the minutes.

Times Higher Education asked the university if the plan would now go ahead, but a spokeswoman said no decision had yet been reached.

De Montfort is among the many universities to announce that it will charge students the maximum fee of £9,000 in 2012-13.

Aaron Porter, the NUS president, said: "Those who stand to pay increasing fees for the privilege of studying will baulk at the prospect of being treated like inmates under surveillance...Software allowing universities to keep constant tabs on students...has the potential to be abused.

"Any university seeking to teach such a practical lesson in Orwell studies has its work cut out in seeking to convince students that forced exposure to round-the-clock monitoring will not infringe on their privacy or dignity."

Alan J. Ryan, spokesman for the University and College Union at De Montfort, said the UCU understood the idea to be "on the back burner".


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