Edinburgh University under fire over staff surveillance

Edinburgh University said it would apply the Home Office rule to all staff. Photograph: Jane Barlow

Edinburgh University said it would apply the Home Office rule to all staff. Photograph: Jane Barlow

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A high profile Oxbridge academic has withdrawn his donations to Edinburgh University after it emerged that the institution has put its staff under surveillance following Home Office regulations aimed at catching illegal immigrants.

The alumnus said he had decided to protest against the university’s “authoritarian decision” by withdrawing the annual four-figure sum he donates after it emerged that staff will be forced to log where they are if outside of their normal office within the campus. The diktat follows Home Office rules to force all non-EU staff to do so.

Edinburgh University has said it was “not an appropriate or acceptable approach” to apply the rules to only those affected, saying it would extend the policy across the university.

The academic, who asked not to be named, said he had written to Edinburgh University to inform staff that he would terminate the funding he has provided to his alma mater for the past 20 years after hearing of the surveillance programme.

“This is a massive waste of everyone’s time,” he said. “Of course, there is a serious issue of people who may be here illegally, but not many of them are likely to have PhDs and be world class academic researchers. This is just a classic example of universities refusing to stand up to the Home Office and say ‘no’ to outside pressure to do something that makes no sense.”

A message sent by Dorothy Miell, vice-principal and head of the college of humanities and social science, revealed last week that the policy would apply university-wide. However, it claimed it would “not be expected to capture the fact that a staff member is attending a two-hour meeting in the middle of the day, coming in to work an hour later than normal or leaving an hour-and-a-half early.

“A proportionate system will capture the whereabouts of staff when at work, but not at their normal place of work, for periods of half a day or more,” the message said.

A spokeswoman for the university said: “We are committed to treating all staff fairly and equally, regardless of their nationality. We are encouraging all our departments to develop simple and appropriate ways of ensuring that staff share relevant information on a consistent basis.”

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