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UCL apologises after they accidentally threaten staff with £20k fines

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It was recently revealed that faculty and staff at University College London (UCL) were allegedly threatened with fines if they failed to complete spot checks on international student documentation. 

A tweet published by the Unis Resist Border Controls allegedly displays a screenshot of an email sent to UCL lecturers that said "anyone failing to undertake the required reporting duties or providing incorrect information may be liable to a £20,000 personal fine per case"

This tweet was then retweeted by the UCL branch of the University and College Union (UCU) account.

A spokesman from the UCL branch of UCU said that staff and students have written to the president and provost, Professor Michael Arthur, expressing their dismay with the tough immigration controls.

“Staff in other departments have received stern emails threatening “draconian measures” against staff failing to comply with the monitoring of international students," said the spokesman. 

The monitoring of Tier 4 students includes random spot checks on identity documents. 

In May, the student immigration compliance team at UCL issued guidance to lecturers which requested they monitor attendance "based on face-to-face verification, as well as checking registers for signs of abuse and challenging suspicious signatures."

Staff are also required to meet with postgraduate students once a month, including during summer holidays if the student chooses to stay.

In a separate email from the issued guidelines, academics were allegedly warned that a £20,00 fine would be deducted from a "discretionary account" which provides support for research, conferences, travel and equipment if anyone fails to report any immigration breaches. 

According to the UCL branch of the University and College Union, this threat came after 63 students at the Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources had failed to provide enough evidence of their attendance. 

In an email, a member of staff reportedly warned that “this could have significant consequences for [the students]. If UK Visas and Immigration takes action against any of them we may also suffer reputational damage.”

Tier 4 students refer to those undertaking study in the UK from outside the European Union's single market and Switzerland. 

Under the 2010 'hostile environment policy,' it has been policy to make living in the UK as uncomfortable as possible for any illegal migrants. Therefore, universities are required to inform the Home Office of any breaches in visa or immigration status of any student.

UCL students' union found that 83% of 400 international students felt the universities visa compliance regulations were discriminatory in a survey published. 

Mark Crawford, the Postgraduate Student Officer added: “These new visa compliance procedures are absurd, unnecessary and academically illiterate. They’re turning our lecturers into border guards, and we’re calling on them to be reviewed urgently."

A spokesperson for UCL said that it's not university policy to issue fines or carry out spot checks on student documents. However, monthly meetings are required for every Tier 4 student.

In an official apology, UCL has said that the email was "incorrect and unauthorised." They confirmed that the email was sent in error. 

The university has defended its actions as "essential to ensuring that UCL students attend their programme and progress satisfactorily and do not have their visas revoked. Effective engagement monitoring is an important early warning sign for welfare and wellbeing concerns. We take this and our compliance with our duties very seriously." 

Featured image courtesy of David Iliff, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

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