Students at the De Montfort University in Leicester have raised concerns about a new chip being placed in their ID cards which monitors the attendance at lectures and tutorials.
The system works by using the Wi-Fi network around the campus to track the location of all students with a chipped ID card, the network will then log who is attending classes and who is not. The plan was discussed and subsequently approved at a meeting of the university’s executive board, and a further consultation will now occur.
Although many universities use cards to swipe in and out of lectures for security reasons, this represents a worrying deviation, with all students effectively monitored at all times when on campus. This could potentially be used to track the movements of those involved in protest groups or minority groups wrongly suspected of being involved in terrorism.
English language and media student Manisha Hellan, 19, said:
“You come to university to be treated like an adult, not a child. As long as you get your work done, whether you go to lectures or not should be your choice. I understand the reasoning behind it but my concern is what else it could be used for – it's a bit Big Brother.”
Aaron Porter, the outgoing president of the National Union of Students, believes the system is open to abuse. He said:
“Those who stand to pay increasing fees for the privilege of studying will baulk at the prospect of being treated like inmates under surveillance. Software allowing universities to keep constant tabs on students has the potential to be abused.”
“Any university seeking to teach such a practical lesson in Orwell studies has its work cut out in seeking to convince students that forced exposure to round-the-clock monitoring will not infringe on their privacy or dignity.”
A DMU spokeswoman responded:
"We are currently exploring whether or not to use an electronic student attendance monitoring system. No decision has yet been made."
Considering De Montfort University have opted to charge the maximum £9,000 fees from 2012, some students may feel that this is a high price to pay to be under constant surveillance. A simple swipe card is sufficient to monitor attendance if there are serious concerns about security, but this is a step too far and Big Brother Watch would like to see it cancelled before it comes into effect. The system is hardly fool proof in any case, as one person could take 10 cards into a lecture hall to give the impression that all 10 students are present.