More than 30 staff and students from Goldsmiths College, University of London held a protest outside the Warden’s Office at the university on Friday 11 March. They were from the Students Not Suspects campaign, which has been resisting the turn to make university staff into border agents by helping the surveillance of overseas students on campus at the behest of the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA).
As part of the crack-down on students from outside the EEA studying in the UK, learning institutions are required to inform the UKBA if any visiting student’s attendance at college drops beneath a certain level. The means of checking are variable and unreliable. In some cases students have been sent emails to their college email address requesting they come to college and present their passports to administrative staff. Some students at university do not use their college email addresses, preferring to continue using their personal address, and therefore have failed to make such appointments, endangering their registration at University and subsequently failing to fulfil visa requirements.
One name is one too many
Des Freedman, secretary of UCU, the lecturers’ union, at the college and a supporter of ‘Students not Suspects’ explained the inadequacies of the system and its discriminatory nature. Originally a list of 200 names of students at Goldsmiths was due to be handed to the UKBA. That list now has just 20 names on it and management had promised that they had no plans to hand over any names to UKBA. However, he said that even one name handed to the authorities in error was one name too many and that the campaign would continue, and needed to gather momentum.
James Haywood, president-elect of Goldsmiths Students Union and another leading light in the SNS campaign spoke of a meeting with College management the previous day. Thanks to the campaigning those present had done various concessions had been won. Management say they are forced to hand over the names if they wish to achieve “Highly Trusted Sponsor Plus” status for obtaining student visas in the coming years. The HTS status was designed to clear out ‘bogus’ colleges in a crack down under the previous government, now the Coalition wish to offer an enhanced status to the most compliant universities.
The speakers pointed out the value that overseas students bring to UK Universities and the economic hardship that will result from cutting overseas students numbers, for both the university and the local economy, the practical racism in targeting students from outside the EEA and the terrible effect that limiting numbers of students from around the world on the general experience of attending university for all students and staff.
Spreading the Campaign
The Students NOT Suspects campaign was established in January last year at Goldsmiths College, with weekly organising meetings and constant campaigning it offers a hope to all of us dismayed with the trajectory of government policy effecting overseas students. They have organised teach-ins, linked up with activists outside the university for actions and protests and have put tremendous effort into spreading the campaign to other colleges and universities.
Students at the London School of Economics are active in a similar way, but they appear to be the exception. The campaigns from the two colleges are joining forces to organise a public meeting to be held at The LSE on 22 March, students from other colleges interested in getting actions going in their colleges should make sure they get to the meeting. We will be announcing more details when we get them.