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UK Students Protest Biometric Scanner Move 196

Posted by timothy
from the why-not-just-use-the-cctvs-already-in-place dept.
Presto Vivace writes that the UK's Newcastle University is instituting a finger-print based attendance system. From the linked article: "University students may have to scan their fingerprints in future — to prove they are not bunking off lectures. ... 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.'" The system is supposed to bring the university "in line with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and clamp down on illegal immigrants."
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UK Students Protest Biometric Scanner Move

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  • by Puls4r (724907) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:27PM (#42303127)
    I spent my first two years of calculus lectures sleeping in. I scored near perfect in both classes. WHY do people have to be at lectures they don't need, again? It's the university's stupid rules that don't allow me to just test out of the classes: they've got to have their money. But why would they want me sitting in a lecture distracting other people while I surf youtube?
    • by Xugumad (39311) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:29PM (#42303145)

      If you're at the university on a visa, there's an expectation you're attending the university. Don't laugh, it happens.

      If the UKBA feels the university isn't doing enough, this happens: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19425718 [bbc.co.uk]

      • by 1s44c (552956) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @05:58PM (#42303663)

        If you're at the university on a visa, there's an expectation you're attending the university. Don't laugh, it happens.

        If the UKBA feels the university isn't doing enough, this happens: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19425718 [bbc.co.uk]

        And there are countless other colleges running fake courses or dumbass courses just to get people student visas. Or at least there were, the government is trying real hard to clean it up.

        There used to be posters all over London advertisting that if you enroll in some basic class at some Indian run dodgy college you get the right to stay in the country. It was all one big visa scam.

        • by lgw (121541)

          Thanks - TFS made no kind of sense at all without your explanation. Now I have some clue what's going on here.

      • If you're at the university on a visa, there's an expectation you're attending the university.

        You can easily prove that by passing exams (or by failing to pass them in any other way than being absent). Anyway, it is ridiculous to make double standards for students. Stuff like this makes my backwater home country look extraordinarily enlightened. UK looks more and more like a police state in comparison.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          If you're at the university on a visa, there's an expectation you're attending the university.

          You can easily prove that by passing exams (or by failing to pass them in any other way than being absent).

          The point is not about passing or failing courses. It's about people who get a visa to ENTER the country on the basis that they will be FULL TIME students supporting themselves out of their own funds and doing NO WORK in the country because the DO NOT HAVE A WORK PERMIT. (FYI : being a student is not considere

      • by leathered (780018) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @07:38PM (#42304281)

        I worked in a UK university CS department for four years in the mid 00s. Foreign students turning up for a couple of lectures then disappearing was a huge problem. Not for the university of course, who didn't give a shit as long as the fees were paid. Even if the fees weren't paid they were simply kicked off the course but this was never communicated to the UK Borders Agency.

        Since then I've been told that the universities have had a royal boot up the arse from the government and are to inform immediately if a foreign student has poor or no attendance. What we're seeing here is probably an overreaction to this.

    • Cant you jsut sit there without having to watch TV? Some asshole in the front of my last IT class would watch fucking live basketball until i told him to knock it off.
    • why have a college GED as well or at least split off the gen edu stuff.

      And they you have also have REAL tech / trades schools with none of the gen edus in them.

      • by xelah (176252)
        Newcastle University almost certainly DOESN'T have them. It's not typical in the UK.
    • I spent my first two years of calculus lectures sleeping in. I scored near perfect in both classes. WHY do people have to be at lectures they don't need, again?

      And how do you prove you don't need the lectures? Sit an exam every week on what's been taught so far? For every one who's lucky enough to get away with it, how many more are wasting taxpayer time and money?

      • by xelah (176252) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @06:38PM (#42303873)
        You prove it by passing the exams at the end of your course. If you fail because you didn't go to the lectures you should have gone to....well, hard luck, and get saving for your next attempt. It's a university, not a school, and you shouldn't expect to get nannied like a child.
      • by lgw (121541)

        , how many more are wasting taxpayer time and money?

        This is the quiet path from socialism to fascism. No one would say a think like this if students paid their own way, but since the government's paying, well then, it's just good common sense to take some of your rights away. Every endeavor that the government takes over funding of leads to the same place, it seems: since the government is paying, you now need to follow a new set of rules to make sure you don't waste the People's money.

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      I spent my first two years of calculus lectures sleeping in. I scored near perfect in both classes.

      WHY do people have to be at lectures they don't need, again?

      It's the university's stupid rules that don't allow me to just test out of the classes: they've got to have their money.

      But why would they want me sitting in a lecture distracting other people while I surf youtube?

      The university's are in a special position where they can able to apply for student visa's for their students. A condition of that is that they must check the people they are applying for visas for are indeed genuine students. Many students turn up on student visa's, never go to class, and apply for permanent residency after 5 years. They have no intention of studying and in some cases don't know enough English to even begain to understand the subjects they are enrolled for.

      • by mhotchin (791085)

        Isn't the fix for this then that the Border Agency gets *those* stdents transcripts at the end of each term, and if they are failing out, the BA deports them?

        Who cares if you are in a classroom? I can fail just as easily by sleeping in class as by sleeping in. Deport the students that don't have an adequate transcript, done.

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          If they are in the classroom, they aren't working in a restaurant or some similar low skilled job with no intention of ever completing the course.

      • by MachDelta (704883)

        Shouldn't these "not-a-student" students be getting tossed out of school after a few semesters (it's two, where I attend) with a 0 GPA?
        Or are they hopping universities? How would they even get accepted five times?

        • by xelah (176252)
          I think the reputed problem is that there are private colleges of various kinds (usually not proper universities) who offer courses whose main appeal is the visa. Colleges like that aren't going to throw out failing students. And the solution is to look very carefully in to those colleges, not to make life difficult for students shopping the world market for accredited degree courses.
          • And the solution is definitely NOT to have real universities (like Newcastle) implement stupid, expensive, invasive, ineffective measures like this. Can anyone think of any good that could possibly come from this?

            As many other poster have pointed out, if people don't want to pay attention to the lecture, it's counter-productive to force them to attend.

          • If you are in the country on a student visa, shouldn't the Border Agency (or what-ever it's called in the UK) be getting their transcripts at the end of each term?
      • "The university's are in a special position where they can able to apply for student visa's for their students."

        That's all great (if we ignore mis-spellings) but the fact is that fingerprint scanning is a terrible way to enforce anything. They don't work worth a damn. They are easy to spoof. If you haven't read the reports, the watch the MythBusters segment [youtube.com] that was dedicated to this. The technology has not advanced significantly since then.

    • by xelah (176252)
      It does seem quite bizarre, not to mention patronizing. IIRC, at my university we were entitled to attend any lectures we saw fit, whether designed for our course or not. The only time anyone might feel that they really had to turn up for lectures was for smaller lectures where their tutor happened to be the lecturer.....
      • by Cederic (9623)

        Yeah, I never had any trouble for skipping lectures at Uni.

        One lecturer hated me because I skipped her lectures. They bored me. She was pissed off when I passed her course with ease anyway.

        One lecturer was so used to me turning up at the start of the lecture, taking his handouts (his handouts were basically an entire book, over the course of the year) and leaving again before he started the lecture, that he'd just hand the notes to me on his way in. One day he did stop and ask me to stay for a couple of min

    • by pjt33 (739471)

      WHY do people have to be at lectures they don't need, again?

      Someone has to sit in the front row and correct the lecturer's mistakes...

    • I spent my first two years of calculus lectures sleeping in. I scored near perfect in both classes.

      My question is, why are you taking those classes if you already are an expert on the material? Couldn't you ask your department to get you into higher level classes? To me this is a complete waste of money and time. I was at school to take classes that really challenged me. Maybe that's why my grades were not straight A's. Also why I got my money's worth out of my education.

    • by beelsebob (529313)

      Indeed, at least when I was a student, the idea was (in nearly the words of Sir Terry Pratchett) to put students and books in the same place, and hope that something in one found its way into the other (of course students positioned themselves in the pub for roughly the same reason).

      University isn't meant to be about enforcing how, or when you learn. It's meant to be about you expanding your knowledge of a subject, and it just happens that they check at the end that your knowledge is sufficiently expanded

  • by Xugumad (39311) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:27PM (#42303129)

    > claiming the scanners would 'turn universities into border checkpoints'

    Bit late for that.

    Seriously though; universities have to prove overseas students are actually attending the university. How would other suggest we do this?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:37PM (#42303179)

      WHY do universities have to prove that overseas students are actually attending the university? Why is this so critical?

      Sure, I understand that you don't want the students getting jobs illegally. But what does that have to do with the university? Employers need to make sure that their workers have proper immigration status. It shouldn't be the university's responsibility. And beyond that, who cares?

      • by Xugumad (39311)

        You would have to take that up with the government, it's their requirement: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19425718 [bbc.co.uk]

        I'd have to check the specifics of what the requirements are (they're actually not terribly harsh, just more admin work we didn't need), but they are something that are imposed on universities.

      • by 1s44c (552956) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @06:10PM (#42303721)

        WHY do universities have to prove that overseas students are actually attending the university? Why is this so critical?

        Anyone signed onto a course gets a student visa. After staying for 5 years they can apply for permanent residency. Because of this there are plenty of people with a very basic, or no, education who sign up to courses they never attend as a way to get permanent residency in the UK and the benefits that go with it.

        Now if someone genuinely spends 5 years in education they are an asset to the country and should be allowed to stay. If they know nothing and just want free stuff from the state that's not OK.

        • by BlueStrat (756137)

          If they know nothing and just want free stuff from the state that's not OK.

          How is that different from current native-born UK, and for that matter, US citizens? Hell, even *after* they graduate as well? Believe me, as someone who has tried to hire competent university graduates, even many of the ones who graduate with high marks are shockingly ignorant and incompetent in the fields they hold degrees in.

          I don't care if a candidate graduated with an advanced degree with high grade-averages from the most prestigious universities or doesn't even have a GED. If you can *do the work* is

        • If they fail their courses, can they continue with their program? It seems like passing classes as a requirement for the student visa would fulfill the same purpose, booting those who aren't actually showing competence.

      • Just a bit of background to set the context for this.

        English* Universities depend very heavily on the income from overseas students as the total funding from English students (fees + government grants) does not, allegedly, meet the costs of the education provided. It's also now the only growth area for student recruitment (applications from English students were down around 10% this year as fees have risen steeply). The last I heard, Newcastle University was building on its campus a college for overseas stu

    • by russotto (537200)

      Seriously though; universities have to prove overseas students are actually attending the university. How would other suggest we do this?

      I'd suggest GPS anklets for all overseas students. If that doesn't work, shock collars. Seriously, do you think a mandate justifies any means necessary to fulfill it?

      • by Xugumad (39311) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:56PM (#42303299)

        That's fair, but I did want people to think about this.

        My suggestion was that we do wifi-pinging from student mobiles to cover most cases (as in you download an app and it checks you're in-range of our wifi), and use attendance at tutorials and 2-3 annual full checks (as in turn up with your passport so we can double check everything) to cover the requirement for more in-depth checks. Having tried ID card based lecture attendance, we've found mostly it's a huge pain; even when it works correctly it creates long queues at the start of lectures, and it's more hardware we have to manage. I don't imagine Newcastle will be doing fingerprint checks for long, personally...

        • by westlake (615356)

          My suggestion was that we do wifi-pinging from student mobiles to cover most cases (as in you download an app and it checks you're in-range of our wifi), and use attendance at tutorials and 2-3 annual full checks (as in turn up with your passport so we can double check everything) to cover the requirement for more in-depth checks.

          What makes this simpler, cheaper, or more reliable then the fingerprint ID check at the entrance to the lecture hall?

          • by Xugumad (39311)

            We have wifi infrastructure in place anyway, and many of the students have mobile devices. It's therefore not a lot of developer work to have our university mobile app be able to say "Yeah, I'm on the right network" on a daily basis, or on request when students are meant to be in lecture, or something. In comparison to fingerprint checks we don't have to equip every lecture theatre with fingerprint scanners (probably two, so we have a backup in case of problems) and computers (again, two) and then maintain

        • My suggestion was that we do wifi-pinging from student mobiles to cover most cases (as in you download an app and it checks you're in-range of our wifi)...

          Then just one student needs to carry the phones of his friends, and the system is circumvented.

          I don't imagine Newcastle will be doing fingerprint checks for long, personally...

          I agree. With the students and even the staff strongly against it, those scanners will get vandalized within the first 24 hours. Whoever came up with this idea is a real idiot.

      • by 1s44c (552956)

        Seriously though; universities have to prove overseas students are actually attending the university. How would other suggest we do this?

        I'd suggest GPS anklets for all overseas students. If that doesn't work, shock collars. Seriously, do you think a mandate justifies any means necessary to fulfill it?

        How about having a register and a prof who actually knows who the students are? Or at the least checks the same student doesn't claim to be more than one person.

        The really sad thing is that everything other than the fingerprint readers can be gamed in some way.

    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday December 15, 2012 @05:05PM (#42303359) Homepage

      Seriously though; universities have to prove overseas students are actually attending the university. How would other suggest we do this?

      By requiring that the student present a transcript each year at visa-renewal time in order showing that he or she has taken exams and gained a certain amount of credits toward a degree. This is how it is done in Finland, at least. This has the advantage of not hassling students who feel that their time is better spent in the library instead of at lectures.

      • by Xugumad (39311)

        > This has the advantage of not hassling students who feel that their time is better spent in the library instead of at lecture.

        Which makes me think, why aren't we using book lending as an activity...

        • by mhotchin (791085)

          I got a double major in CS and Pure Math, *never* borrowed a book from the Library.

          Library activity is one of those easy-to-measure-but-meaningless numbers.

          • by Xugumad (39311)

            Sorry, realised this is obvious to me, but requires explanation.

            There are fixed things we absolutely have to check, such as checking visa & passport at the start of the academic year (might be each semester, not sure off hand), but there's a more flexible set of requirements in checking the student is generally attending the university.

            What that means is we can tell students they need to be attending tutorials regularly and/or taking out books regularly or can be expected to be called in for an ID check

          • Library activity is one of those easy-to-measure-but-meaningless numbers.

            To be fair, so is lecture attendance.

            The quality of lecturers when I was at university ranged from almost unmissable to almost unthinkable. IMHO, spending half your working day in one of the most absurdly learning-hostile environments yet developed by humanity is rarely worth it for anyone not towards the "almost unmissable" end of the spectrum.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "This is how it is done in Finland, at least."

        But what has a Finn ever contributed to the world?

        (runs)

    • by Dekker3D (989692)

      Could at least exempt all students who don't need a visa. That would cut down on harassment. Other than that, I'd agree... just require actual results at the end of the year, and perhaps at the ends of semesters or whatever they're called. If you score 40% or less for more than one thing, or don't bother showing up at all, you get kicked out.

  • by Snotnose (212196) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:27PM (#42303131)

    This always bothered me. Tell me what the homework is and when the tests are. Let me decide if your lectures are worth attending.

    When I was a student I noticed the only professors who cared about attendance were the ones who couldn't teach worth a damn.

    • the old college system needs change going on line for lectures classes is a good start and can work to cut costs and let people take there time in more the core classes.

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      I think the only classes I ever had that had required attendance was higher 300+ classes when you had team projects.

      When I went to my state Uni, if a class was not full, you could sit in on lectures, just don't be asking questions, consume resources like hand-outs, or otherwise disrupt the class.
    • by Xugumad (39311) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @05:06PM (#42303365)

      From my point of view (as a non-academic who works on improving university administration), it matters for a few key reasons:

      1. Students who don't turn up to lectures are more likely to drop out of university. This particularly goes for students whose attendance was good and tails off, so we want to spot them early on and ask if they need any help (academic or personal).

      2. If a student turns up mid-way through semester with problems, we're inclined to be a lot more sympathetic (and devote more staff time to helping) if you've attended class. If you didn't attend class and then don't know the material, it could be argued that's rather your own fault.

      • The students pay the fees that keep the staff in jobs. It seems bizarre that they should be the ones who should be tracked.

        If anything, the lecturers and academics should be the ones who have to sign in and prove they are doing the work the students are paying them for.

        • by Xugumad (39311)

          Customers, technically, but anyway...

          We do not have a general policy of failing students for not attending most lectures. There are exceptions; if you're doing Chemistry and completely fail to attend a safety briefing (I believe they're all either routinely repeated or can be repeated if there's a good reason why a student was absent), for example, that can basically be degree ending right there (you cannot be allowed into the lab, so cannot do coursework). There are similar examples in most sciences and Me

        • by lgw (121541)

          That's a very US point of view (and I admire it), but in many places college is "free" (paid for by taxpayers or bad loans), which puts the students in a less nice place.

      • Students who don't turn up to lectures are more likely to drop out of university.

        Perhaps, but correlation does not imply causation.

        I appreciate the desire to help and the concern over someone who attended well at first but not later, but it's not worth much unless someone in authority will act on honest responses like "Sure, because the lecturer was awful and I wasn't learning anything useful there".

        If you didn't attend class and then don't know the material, it could be argued that's rather your own fault.

        It could be, but only if you take it as an axiom that the lectures would have taught that material effectively. That's a huge and IME entirely absurd assumption.

      • From my point of view (as a non-academic who works on improving university administration), it matters for a few key reasons:

        1. Students who don't turn up to lectures are more likely to drop out of university. This particularly goes for students whose attendance was good and tails off, so we want to spot them early on and ask if they need any help (academic or personal).

        As someone who actually has taught at the university level, I think work completion and grades are a much better indicator than lecture attendance. If a student disappears from my class for a couple weeks, but the work keeps being turned in, I'm generally not concerned.

        If the student begins to miss assignments or tests, there's much more likely to be an actual issue, and I will immediately try to contact the student.

        I think you're measuring the wrong thing here. You'll only catch a lot problem student

  • Summary, summarized (Score:4, Informative)

    by feedayeen (1322473) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:28PM (#42303141)

    The UK is concerned that some of their international students are illegally working. Their reasoning is that school and work are mutually exclusive so if you are in school you are not working and vise versa. This is flawed reasoning.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:43PM (#42303229)

      The UK is concerned that some of their international students are illegally working.

      If international student visa abuse is the problem . . . then why are they proposing to monitor the attendance of ALL students . . . ? Methinks they are planning to use this for something else in the future . . .

      • by 1s44c (552956)

        If international student visa abuse is the problem . . . then why are they proposing to monitor the attendance of ALL students . . . ?

        Because anything else could be seen as racist.

        • by Cederic (9623)

          How so?

          I mean, the British people attending the university will be from multiple race and the International students will be from multiple races too. There will be a strong (potentially 100%) overlap in the races from each group.

          So checking the International students wouldn't even be racism by circumstance, let alone intentional racism.

      • I suspect the real reason for this might be the introduction of £9,000 ($14,000) pa tuition fees plus the rise of the "helicopter parent" and a US-style litigation culture in the UK. By using a system such as the one proposed they'll be able to keep a record of who attends and if they are sued for breach of contract (or something similar) when little Jimmy doesn't pass his exams they can turn around and say (with confidence) that he never turned up to lectures. Government visa controls are probably be
  • Coming soon (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:31PM (#42303155)

    A new unofficial Student service to sell you latex gloves with 'someone else's' fingerpints embedded in the fingers.
    Available in any of the Pubs that sell Newcastle Brown around the University.

    being serious for a moment,
    If it is the UKBA demanding this then I guess that if you are a British citizen you can stick two finger(prints) up at them. IMHO, demanding this sort of thing from UK Citizens is the sort of thing that would get them sued pretty quickly. There is no legal requirement to have any form of ID in the UK.

  • can't expect them all to know how to sign their names.

  • DISNEY WORLD (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bananatree3 (872975) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @04:49PM (#42303267)
    Disney World has been quietly requiring fingerprint scans for certain parts of the park: [orlandosentinel.com]http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_columnist_mikethomas/2007/05/finger_scanners.html [orlandosentinel.com]

    While it seems new for school attendance, non-financial biometric scans are not new...
  • by jenningsthecat (1525947) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @05:21PM (#42303463)

    Although I abhor the practice of compulsory biometric tracking, in the case of employees I can at least see some small justification for it, because employees receive paycheques in exchange for adhering to their employers' rules.

    But when an institution to which I am paying money for a service wants my fingerprints so they can track me, they can just fuck right off. And the government too, for that matter. Brits ought to be calling loudly for the heads of the decision makers on this one.

    Although I believe it often goes too far, I'll admit the need for some kind of immigration monitoring and enforcement. But when that monitoring turns ordinary innocent citizens into the subjects of invasive surveillance, it's time to draw the line. This is 'death by a thousand cuts' stuff, and what's being cut and killed is our very freedom. This shit has to stop.

    • by westlake (615356)

      But when an institution to which I am paying money for a service wants my fingerprints so they can track me, they can just fuck right off. And the government too, for that matter.

      This assumes you are paying all costs up-front with no loans, grants, or subsides of any kind to you or to your school. It is far more likely, I suspect, that a great many people have very good reasons for holding your feet to the fire.

      People who will want to know if you they have invested in you wisely.

      That your grades are living up to expectations. That you are making reasonable progress towards a degree.

      The campus is not your private playground.

      You do not have unlimited --- unconditional --- access

      • by Cederic (9623)

        People who will want to know if you they have invested in you wisely.

        That your grades are living up to expectations. That you are making reasonable progress towards a degree.

        This is why there are exams and coursework. This is why you hand in assignments that test your knowledge of the subject, ability to research and ability to present cogent arguments.

        None of this requires you to attend lectures.

        The campus is not your private playground.

        Indeed. It's a playground you share with other young attractive people with similar interests and the same sense of adventure.

        There's a reason people get an education at University, and it's rarely the lectures.

    • by abigsmurf (919188)
      When I was at uni (middlesex university), every lecture and class had a register you had to sign. If you didn't sign most registers, you'd fail the course (regardless of how you did in exams or coursework).

      People throw around "scary" buzzwords like biometrics but in practice this is no different from something a lot of British unis have had in place for a long time. It's just a harder system to cheat.
  • What the hell is wrong with a university when it is so rudderless that it feels that one ounce of effort should be directed toward immigration control? If illegal immigration is causing some sort of problem for the university that is interfering with their core mandate of teaching students then yes get all over that. But if this is a paper pusher problem where some people are signing up for a third rate university to get a visa and then booking it then who cares. The university could just provide transcript
  • by Murdoch5 (1563847)
    And what they really want to do is to take that finger print and look up everything you've ever done and like. Then they will capture all the data and well you sleep install tracking id tags into your bodies. As you then walk around the university they will target advertising at you. This will then expand to installing cameras at the desks so you can be watched at all times, you'll be required to be tapped non stop. This isn't far enough yet, the government will come in and start using you like cattle,

Parkinson's Law: Work expands to fill the time alloted it.

Working...