Academics refuse to police immigration

Academics refuse to police immigration


Written by: Miranda Wilson, Miranda Wilson

IRR News reproduces a collective letter by academics who ‘decry the insidious way in which [they] are being used to monitor foreign students and staff’.[1]

‘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’, Times Higher Education Supplement, 30 April 2009), 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 (UCU), 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.’

Related links

Read an IRR news story: ‘Growing academic campaign against immigration rules’

[1] Originally published in the Times Higher Education Supplement on 7 May 2009. Authors: 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.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.