STUDENTS at a North East university could be asked to scan their fingerprints to prove they are attending classes.
Newcastle University says biometric scanners would bring the institution in line with UK Border Agency (UKBA) rules clamping down on illegal immigrants.
But some students and staff claim the “unnecessary and intrusive” move would turn lecture halls into border check points.
Next academic year, Newcastle University plans to roll out a Student Attendance Monitoring System for all students.
Exactly how it will work is still being discussed but one option is to introduce finger scanners at lectures and classes. The scanners would read students’ fingerprints and collect data on which classes they attend.
The university claims the move is necessary to meet their obligation to UKBA to ensure international students don’t use student visas as a way to sneak into the country and work illegally.
Keeping on top of attendance can also help identify home students who are in need of support, the university says.
But a student group 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.
“I have had international students say that they don’t pay thousands of pounds a year to be treated like they are on probation,” he said.
“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.”
He added: “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.”
Northumbria University is looking into introducing smart cards while Sunderland said it has “a robust attendance monitoring system”.