Universities will have to report overseas students who fail to enrol or do not attend their courses from autumn 2009, immigration authorities have confirmed.
A new points-based immigration system for foreign students comes into force in March 2009. This will require the UK Border Agency to set up a new information-technology system through which universities will have to issue students with "confirmations of acceptance for studies" and report them if they drop out of their courses.
The IT system will be introduced in autumn 2009 and reporting non-attendance will not be mandatory until then, the Home Office announced this week.
Universities nevertheless raised concerns that the system would not be ready on time.
Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "We remain very concerned about the IT system that will support the new arrangements. Sufficient time needs to be allowed to enable universities to provide input to the IT specification and for testing to take place, both in the UK and overseas.
"Students have a short period of time in which to make their visa applications. If the IT system does not work during this window, students will miss the start of their programmes and may decide not to come to the UK."
Meanwhile, the School of Oriental and African Studies angered staff earlier this term by issuing letters asking them to report to the human resources department with their passports as "a matter of urgency". An audit of files in preparation for new rules on non-European Union staff had revealed that copies of passports were missing, the letter said.
"Please note that should a member of staff fail to produce these documents or should he/she for whatever reason have his/her immigration clearance revoked, the school reserves the right to terminate the member of staff's contract of employment," the letter said.
After complaints from staff that they had been singled out for having "foreign-sounding names", principal Paul Webley apologised.