A university has dropped “intrusive” plans to monitor the location of foreign staff via an email system after it was denounced by unions as “Big Brother” surveillance.
About 100 academics at the University of Warwick who hail from outside the European Union were ordered last month to record their whereabouts on a Microsoft Outlook electronic diary, which could then be shared with the UK Border Agency during any immigration check.
Staff on Tier 2 visas were asked in an email to “state your physical location on each day” to help the institution to comply with its highly trusted sponsor duties for non-EU staff and students.
However, the move was criticised as “draconian” by Warwick’s University and College Union branch, which said that the “extremely intrusive monitoring” had led the university to “behave more like a police state than a liberal academy”.
UCU branch president Jimmy Donaghey, associate professor of industrial relations and personnel management at Warwick Business School, said that the university had “gone overboard” in its efforts to comply with the UKBA’s monitoring requirements.
“Applying the proposed scheme literally, if someone was going down to London for the weekend, they would have had to report it,” he said.
“At other universities staff are simply required to submit their passports once a year, so this regime would have been totally over the top.”
Warwick’s approach was “understandable” given the UKBA’s crackdown on student visas, but it could have severely damaged the university’s capacity to attract top foreign staff, Professor Donaghey added.
“This university attracts staff from all over the world, but this move would have sent the message that we do not want overseas staff here.”
“This is caused by downward pressure from the UKBA, and I am sure the university is just trying to minimise any risk [to its highly trusted status].”
Several UK universities have adopted electronic monitoring systems, including swipe cards, to track their non-EU students, but initiatives like that planned at Warwick are far less common.
In an email sent to staff on 23 January, Warwick states that “it has been decided that we should no longer pursue this method of reviewing attendance” in light of growing criticisms of the scheme.
The university will “build on local mechanisms instead”, with a review assessing how monitoring could be introduced.
A university spokesman said that several staff had agreed to use the diary system; however, the plan had faced opposition when it was subsequently rolled out across the institution.
“When that measure was escalated for review with the administrative leadership of the university, concerns were recognised and it was rejected as an ongoing approach,” he said.
The spokesman added that the university was now “reviewing its processes regarding its ongoing compliance” with the border agency’s requirements.
He added: “Discussions are continuing with heads of academic department, individual academic staff and the unions on approaches that offer flexibility while also ensuring that the university can continue to demonstrate the requirements of its highly trusted sponsor licence.”