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University rows back on attendance policy after backlash

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By Hannah Somerville, MA Arabic Literature

A ‘draconian’ attendance policy for PhD students on Tier 4 visas has been put on ice by SOAS after being roundly criticised by the Students’ Union. On Tuesday, November 14 international students received an email of a new policy requiring students to check in with the Doctoral School in person once every three weeks. Students were told that they would also be required to seek approval from the Doctoral School when leaving the country, regardless of the length of time they plan to spend abroad.

There is no specific UK Visa and Immigration or Home Office guidance requiring this change. The policy appeared to have been developed unilaterally by SOAS management and according to the SU falls quite outside the norm for UK universities would be ‘particularly inflexible and burdensome’. Although the policy was dated August 17, students were not notified until November. At the Union General Meeting on November 16, research student Kathryn Nash said it had come “pretty much out of the blue.” She added: “This is a big change from how we are currently kept track of. Normally we use logbooks and have a supervisory committee.

“We feel this is a change completely outside the norms of the sector, implemented very quickly, five days before the holidays, when many of us had bought tickets to go home. This is also not in the spirit of SOAS and we believe it’s a demeaning scenario for PhD students, who feel they are being criminalised.”

At the UGM an emergency motion was unanimously passed calling for the immediate suspension of the new Tier 4 research student lobby, demanding that the school consult students on change to regulations and be transparent about the rationale behind them. It also noted that school policy should be ‘in line with the sector norm within the UK’, adding: “SOAS should seek to facilitate the inclusion of international students and resist efforts to place ever more restrictions on students from abroad studying in the UK…as such, the School needs to be as flexible as the Home Office allows and not impose further burdens on students.” The policy has now been put on hold ahead of proper consultation with students, who have also warned it could exacerbate the stress already on PhD students at SOAS.

A SOAS spokeswoman said: “The School has written to all PGR students to make clear it has paused the operation of a new attendance policy for postgraduate research students. This is in order to enable consultation on the policy, as requested by the Research Students Association and the Students Union. The School has apologised for any concerns caused by introducing the policy and recognises that prior consultation would of course have been helpful and appropriate.”

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