University of Edinburgh to monitor staff location

Campus staff will have to report their whereabouts to managers when they leave their ‘normal place of work’ for a morning or afternoon

April 18, 2016
A man with a CCTV camera on his head
Source: Alamy
Watching you: capturing ‘the whereabouts of staff when at work’

A UK university is introducing a new staff monitoring policy that will require employees to tell management if they leave their “normal place of work” for half a day or longer.

The University of Edinburgh has confirmed that it is to extend new rules that oblige international staff to report their whereabouts “when officially at work, but not in their normal place of work” to all employees.

That is because the university’s central management group had decided that it was “not an appropriate or acceptable approach” to apply the reporting rules, which are a condition of Tier 2 and 5 work visas, solely to staff from outside the European Union.

Under the new rules, all schools and departments have been asked to put in place “sensible and proportionate arrangements” to ensure they know when staff are at their normal place of work, on leave, working from home, elsewhere on campus or away from the university, according to a message to some employees seen by Times Higher Education.

The “decision to apply the same process to all staff, not just our Tier 2 and Tier 5 colleagues, mirrors our college’s attendance and engagement policy for students which has both compliance and pastoral aims”, according to the message, which was sent by Dorothy Miell, vice-principal and head of the College of Humanities and Social Science.

However, some staff have expressed disappointment that a monitoring policy likely to impact on a handful of foreign staff for Home Office purposes will now affect all of Edinburgh’s 13,000 employees.

One staff member told THE that he was disappointed the reporting policy would even apply when staff are visiting different parts of the university campus, such as the library or a colleague’s office.

“We have some concerns about the way these proposals are being rolled out,” said a spokesman for Edinburgh’s University and College Union branch.

“We’re currently consulting with members and seeking advice on how to ensure that any staff monitoring by the university is done in a fair and proportionate manner,” he added.

Another Edinburgh academic, who did not want to be named, said that under guidelines drawn up by the workplace dispute mediator Acas, "overbearing supervision is classed as bullying".

"Rather than using the oppressive requirements to which the Home Office subjects a handful of valued colleagues to justify comprehensive micromanagement, we should use our position and power to challenge this xenophobia and treat everybody with greater trust," they added.

Edinburgh confirmed the policy would apply university-wide, although it would “not be expected to capture the fact that a staff member is attending a two-hour meeting in the middle of the day, coming in to work an hour later than normal or leaving an hour and a half early”, according to Professor Miell’s memo.

“A proportionate system will capture the whereabouts of staff when at work, but not at their normal place of work, for periods of half a day or more (ie, am or pm),” the message says.

“As a leading global university, we are committed to treating all staff fairly and equally, regardless of their nationality,” a university spokesman told THE.

“We are encouraging all our departments to develop simple and appropriate ways of ensuring that staff share relevant information on a consistent basis,” he added.

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Reader's comments (4)

Staff should subvert the system by lying about their whereabouts. How will the admin know, and then it simply gives the appearance of compliance without actually complying.
Edinburgh university academics should clearly retaliate by making management the subject of a large ESRC-funded, multi-year research programme looking at the effects of neoliberalism/predatory capitalism in higher education
I think it is a very positive scheme. To show my whole hearted participation when it is rolled out in my own institution, I will phone my line manager every night I am working late on research (start and end times), every morning when I am up very early to set up complex class practicals or experiments, and, of course, every weekend and holiday when I'm working instead of spending time with my family. If I don't get my line manager, I'll call their line manager. And as soon as I get to 40 hours in any given week, I'll stop working. More seriously, no one I know in University does the work they are paid for. A tiny number do less. The vast majority do far more. Attempts to regulate working hours, on tasks such as research which are not time defined, are not just pointless: they are counter productive.
How fascinating. The Orwellian Animal Farm where all staff are equal but some more equal than others. What I’m left wondering is what on earth is there to hide? For your employer to know where you are is pretty much standard across all jobs. It is perhaps time for academics to wake up a bit to the reality of working for an organisation, and to be reminded that they do not work for themselves.