We won’t collude with efforts to use the academy to police immigration

Great initiative from my friend David Whyte, Ann Singleton and Steve Tombs. They decry the insidious way in which academics are being used to monitor foreign students and staff (thanks Moa).

We are among the growing number of academics across the UK voicing our concern about being drawn into playing a key role in an ever-tightening system of immigration control. Many of us are now being asked to implement procedures and checks related to immigration status on both our colleagues and our students. The creeping imposition of such practices raises questions about the legal responsibilities and contractual requirements of university and college staff, the methods the UK is using to police immigration, and the compromising of what remains of academic freedom in Britain.

In February 2008, the Government introduced major changes to UK immigration policies and laws, seeking to consolidate a plethora of immigration-control measures. The main plank of these changes was the introduction of a points-based system (PBS) under which potential employers of migrant workers from outside the European Union must be approved and licensed by the Government before workers are granted permits to take up employment. Thus, universities and colleges must now be licensed as “approved education providers” to bring non-EU students into the UK to study. In addition, before they are admitted to the country, these students must hold a visa giving them permission to enter for the purposes of study at the approved institution, and prove that they have enough money to pay their fees and maintain themselves in the UK.

The Home Office has issued the same guidance to all higher education institutions, but universities differ markedly in the interpretation and implementation of their duties. Many have introduced a variety of new practices to monitor both the employment and education of non-EU nationals. Some academics and administrators are being instructed to take full registers at lectures and seminars, and to report non-attendance (even if attendance is not compulsory); others are being asked to take the passport information or driving licence details of colleagues who are invited to act as external examiners.

What is common to these responses is that they are discriminatory and likely to result in at best prejudicial and at worst unlawful actions against individual colleagues and students. Across the sector, management responses are confused and overzealous. The atmosphere for non-EU students and colleagues is becoming increasingly hostile and surrounded with doubt and suspicion.

Our role does not extend to policing or monitoring immigration – nor should it. It is important that academics resist collusion with the creeping surveillance mentality being introduced into institutions on the back of the PBS. The only reason for monitoring student activity or achievement should be to inform best pedagogic, pastoral and ethical practices.

And such surveillance, while a breach of trust and a distortion of our mentoring and pastoral roles, is just the thin end of the wedge. Some universities have been visited by “anti-terrorism” police and asked to report (Muslim) students whose work shows signs of “radicalisation”. What next? Reporting anyone who shows signs of radicalism? All of this flies in the face of the better traditions of academic life, the educational process and the ethics of ensuring that no one is discriminated against in the classroom or the lecture hall. We urge, along with Susan Edwards (“Call off the witch-hunts”, 30 April), tolerance and free debate in university life.

For all these reasons, we refuse to collude with attempts by Government and higher education institutions to use academics to police and monitor immigration controls. But what, concretely, does this refusal mean? There are some things that individuals can do. Take, for example, external examining, that (largely unpaid) system of collegiate goodwill upon which all of our undergraduate and postgraduate assessment rests; increasingly, those of us undertaking such work are being asked to provide evidence of citizenship (and by implication residency) – so a refusal to engage in any such process would quickly pose problems for those making the demands.

But we cannot leave it to individuals to take isolated action. As we write, a campaign is developing from the ground up through the University and College Union, and should result in a debate on motions of non-cooperation at the UCU’s national congress at the end of May. We must also join with other unions across the sector, notably those that represent administrative staff. Among those things worth defending across universities and colleges, relationships based upon mutual trust and tolerance are surely of the highest priority.

Ann Singleton is senior research fellow, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol; Steve Tombs is professor of sociology, Liverpool John Moores University; and David Whyte is reader in sociology, University of Liverpool.

Full list of signatories:

Rachel Aldred, University of East London

Nicole Asquith, University of Bradford

Andrea Beckmann, University of Lincoln

Eileen Berrington, Manchester Metropolitan University

Ben Bowling, Kings College London

Jon Burnett, University of Liverpool

Hazel Cameron, University of Liverpool

Elizabeth Capewell, Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice

Sarah Cemlyn, University of Bristol

Paul Chatterton, University of Leeds

Bankole Cole, University of Hull

Charlie Cooper, University of Hull

Gary Craig, University of Hull

Heaven Crawley, Swansea University

Erika Cudworth, University of East London

Bill Dixon, Keele University

Iain Ferguson, University of Stirling

Robert Fine, University of Warwick

Steven French, University of Leeds

Diane Frost, University of Liverpool

Geetanjali Gangoli, University of Bristol

Barry Goldson, University of Liverpool

Dave Gordon, University of Bristol

Penny Green, Kings College London

Simon Hallsworth, London Metropolitan University

Mark Hayes, Southampton Solent University

Stuart Hodkinson, University of Leeds

Gerry Johnstone, University of Hull

Helen Jones, Manchester Metropolitan University

Paul Jones, University of Liverpool

Majella Kilkey, University of Hull

Dave King, University of Liverpool

Joan Langan, University of Bristol

Ana Lopes, University of East London

Diana Medlicott, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College

Lucy Michael, University of Hull

David Miller, University of Strathclyde

Linda Moore, University of Ulster

Lydia Morris, University of Essex

Bill Munro, University of Stirling

Gabe Mythen, University of Liverpool

Gbenga Oduntan, University of Kent

Christina Pantazis, University of Bristol

Stephanie Petrie, University of Liverpool

Scott Poynting, Manchester Metropolitan University

Anandi Ramamurthy, University of Central Lancashire

Vincenzo Ruggiero, Middlesex University

Jill Rutter, Migration team, Institute for Public Policy Research

David Scott, University of Central Lancashire

Phil Scraton, Queens University Belfast

Prakash Shah, Queen Mary, University of London

Joe Sim, Liverpool John Moores University

Ann Singleton, University of Bristol

Graham Smith, University of Manchester

Iyiola Solanke, University of East Anglia

Keith Soothill, University of Central Lancashire

Steve Tombs, Liverpool John Moores University

Dermot Walsh, University of Limerick

Reece Walters, The Open University

John Watson, University of Hull

David Whyte, University of Liverpool

Richard Wild, University of Greenwich

Mick Wilkinson, University of Hull

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, University of Liverpool

Derek Williams, Southampton Solent University

Emma Williamson, University of Bristol

Majid Yar, University of Hull

Nira Yuval-Davis, University of East London

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

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