University students may have to scan their fingerprints in future to prove they are going to their lectures.
Newcastle University plans to introduce biometric scanners to bring the institution in line with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and clamp down on illegal immigrants.
Students and staff at the North-East university will be monitored through the Student Attendance system from the start of next academic year.
Exactly how it will work is still in question but one option being discussed is to introduce finger scanners at lectures and classes.
These readers would recognise students’ fingerprints and collect data on which sessions they have attended.
Newcastle University claims the move is a necessary step to meet their obligation to UKBA and ensure international students don’t use student visas as a way to sneak into the country and work illegally.
But the university also believes the new system will keep on top of attendance and help identify home students who are in need of support. But some students and staff claim the move is ‘unnecessary and intrusive’.
A student group at Newcastle University claims biometric scanning is over the top and infringes their privacy.
Newcastle Free Education Network has organised protests against the plans, claiming the scanners would ‘turn universities into border checkpoints’ and ‘reduce university to the attendance of lectures alone’.
In a referendum at the Students’ Union, 1,200 students voted against the scheme, with just 320 voting in favour.
Dr Kyle Grayson, a senior lecturer in international politics at the university, spoke at a student meeting.
He said finger scanning risked ruining the university’s reputation overseas. Dr Grayson said: ‘I have had international students say that they don’t pay thousands of pounds a year to be treated like they are on probation.
‘Part of the problem is that the Government has created the issue about student visas being an easy way to get into the country and work illegally, but it has been blown out of proportion.
‘The majority of students, especially at a university like Newcastle, are genuine.
‘They are creating this whole surveillance operation to deal with something which isn’t a big problem.
‘If you asked a student in the USA whether they wanted to go to Newcastle and be biometrically scanned three or four times a week, or to St Andrews, or Northumbria, or elsewhere where they don’t have to do that, it is an easy choice.’
Dr Grayson said home students had also raised concerns about how the data could be used, or what would happen if it was breached.
Jeannette Strachan, academic registrar for student and academic services at the university, said various options are being considered.
She said: ‘As part of UKBA licence agreements, every university is obliged to carry out attendance monitoring to be able to certify at any time, to any visit by the UKBA, that an international student is present on campus and engaged in their studies.
‘If either a student or a university does not comply with UKBA requirements then that student and university is at risk of severe sanctions.’