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29 January 2003

Caroline Wheeler of the Sunday Mercury, Birmingham, reports that Midland universities have been consulted by the security services to consider the vetting of overseas students studying “sensitive” subjects for potential terrorist links. Courses which will be particularly monitored will include physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and computer science. Some lecturers are angered by this instrusion and claim that it will damage student-teacher relations.

One Midland lecturer, who asked not to be named, told the Sunday Mercury: “These proposals will compromise the university’s autonomy and compromise our relationships with students. A compulsory vetting scheme will transform our role from one of supervisor to one of surveillance. Of course we don’t want terrorists coming to study at British universities and gaining access to potentially lethal chemicals. But no one wants a situation where every student from the Middle East is immediately put under suspicion.”

This proposal is similar to an idea mooted in 1998 by the Department of Trade and Industry, requiring universities to seek 'export licenses' prior to allocating overseas students to projects with a defence implication. The ideas was firmly quashed at the time by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

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