Attendance monitoring has gone too far – NUS pulls out the stop sign
There is a fear amongst Universities and Colleges that their Highly Trusted Sponsor status may be threatened as London Metropolitan University's has been. This is manifested in panic stricken measures which are having an adverse impact on students and the institutions they study at.
Guest post by Daniel Stevens. Daniel is the NUS International Students' Officer.
Since the events at London Metropolitan University unfolded two months ago there has been a worrying trend of a variety of universities and colleges tightening and implementing intrusive and excessive attendance monitoring requirements for international students. The Manifesto Club, an organisation that campaigns “against the hyperregulation of everyday life”, has previously reported and warned that such arrangements have created a culture of “suspicion and mistrust.” Some of the new procedures undermine the dignity of international students and undermine their position as trusted independent adults.
Attendance monitoring is required for institutions who want to recruit international students and as must have Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status. It was introduced along with the point-based immigration system (PBIS) in 2009. Opposition to attendance monitoring from students and academics has been successful in the past, but the loss of London Metropolitan’s HTS has spurred numerous institutions to tighten their monitoring procedures.
The Tier 4 requirements explain academic monitoring under the heading of “Student contact stops.” The guidance states that “if you are a highly trusted sponsor you can make two checkpoints (re-registrations) during any rolling 12 month period and you must report any students who have missed 10 consecutive expected contacts without you reasonably giving them permission” It lists examples of expected interactions but later statesthat “It is [the University’s] responsibility to judge whether a student’s absence is authorised or unauthorised.”
Because UKBA’s policy is quite opaque on what judgement an institution can have- the interpretation of the requirements has varied from institution to institution. It seemed pre-London Met many institutions actively tried to minimise the impact of their procedures. Some Universities have tried to cloak the system, applied it to home students as well and tied it into a wider policy retention. Attendance monitoring can be positive for all students for retention purposes to ensure students are coping with their studies. This can be a lifeline to reaching students who may be ill or depressed and ensure they don’t drop off the radar. When I studied for my Masters at Warwick University- you could not discern the procedures in place as attendance monitoring. Others have focused on using pre-existing mandatory check-ins or submission of course work.
Other Universities have gone overboard and required physical checks outside of classes. At Coventry University “all undergraduate students are required to Check-In on 3 days per week.” Checking in is done by “present[ing] your Student ID Card to the member of staff at any monitoring station.” The University of the Arts London and the University of Glamorgan requires all its international students to “check-in” once a week. The University of East London has introduced a “three-strikes” system where if a student misses “3 compulsory elements of a module” or “whose overall attendance falls below 75” will be de-registered from the module. Other universities have introduced similar physical checks albeit not of the same quantity. Greenwich and UWE require monthly check-ins.
Let us make NUS’ position clear on this- we are completely against the requirement for attendance monitoring as a requirement imposed by the UKBA for the education sector. When attendance monitoring must happen- institutions have a responsibility to implement systems in a way that preserves the dignity of international students. It is appalling that certain institutions have required physical checks of any quantity and have discriminated international students when implementing monitoring procedures. We call on such institutions to reverse these procedures immediately. We are also concerned of universities spending millions of pounds on complicated monitoring systems- either through the use of biometrics or electronic swipe cards which we feel institutionalises such systems.
We also side with the Manifesto Club who in their report said “this mentality is particularly damaging to academia, where students are traditionally seen as serious and responsible adults to be trusted by their institutions. The fact that universities themselves have capitulated in monitoring their students has already chipped away at this relationship of trust. It has turned international students into people to be watched and possibly reported to the authorities, which transforms the dynamic between staff and students.”
NUS has been working with partners the UCU and the Manifesto Club in monitoring developments of attendance monitoring in the sector. We will be producing resources to help students’ unions campaign against such requirements locally, but call on universities nationally to end the tightening of their procedures.
This blog post first appeared on Daniel's page on the NUS Connect blogsite on 13 November 2012.
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