Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Innovative solutions for all your xenophobic needs...

Ok, had a bit of a chance to look into the Home Office plans, and the more you look at it, the worse it gets. Well sort of - there's a reasonably sensible bit about colleges and universities having to be licensed in order to be able to act as sponsors for student visas. Which is all very well and, if "bogus colleges" really are a problem, this seems to me to be all you need to actually do. If it's an issue of institutions, deal with it at the level of the institutions. If you want to have some sort of snooper force investigating places with an unreasonably high proportion of foreign students or whose revenues seem to come from very little else but inflated foreign tuition fees, then so be it.

After that it gets a little uglier. You see, they're going to roll out a whole "Sponsorship Management System" who may have been involved in the process from Autumn 2009, and sponsors will be obliged to report failure to enrol, non-attendance and discontinuation. It goes without saying that, being a large IT project run by a combination of the Home Office and the Universities will no doubt work exactly as intended, give rise to no privacy concerns and not unduly enrich any management consultants. But even given the terrifying efficiency that I'm sure will result from the introduction of all this sexy new modern technology, could someone not have come up with a less expensive way of establishing when students who claimed to be enrolled at universities were not, in fact, attending. They already make them register at local police stations, which do presumably occasionally have contact with local universities - could the folks at the Home Office really not have put their heads together and come up with an idea that didn't involve getting faculty to double as border security, and then entering their obeservations into a giant central data-base?

And that's before we start getting into the specifics of what's going to trigger this, doubtless finely honed, electronic network into action: 10 hours as non-attendance - have these people ever met a first-year under-graduate? And I'm sure there'll be a load of benefit claimants who'll be fascinated to hear that £800 pounds a month is the least one could expect a human being to get by on.

I'm not that familiar with this stuff, so I'd appreciate comments from anyone who reads this thing and might have some light to throw on the question (Jayne - time to step up to the plate), but, more than all the usual creepy Stalinism and bashing of Jonny Foreigner, I'm just curious about the "Why?" of the thing. Even with this government, how did such a ludicrous plan make it off the drawing board?

Update: I'm aware that to a lot of you jaded cynics, that last question might seem wilfully naive, or possibly even rhetorical. It's not - I'd genuinely like to get to the bottom of this.


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