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New immigration rules which will force university staff to report foreign students who miss lectures are unfair and will damage relations between lecturers and students, academics say.

From next March lecturers will be expected to report to the Borders Agency any students from outside the EU who miss lectures or seminars or hand in work late.

But some 200 academics have written to The Guardian complaining that the changes will make them de facto immigration officers.

The letter questioned why the Border Agency needed constant monitoring of students and said: "This police-like surveillance is not the function of universities, and alters the educational relationship between students and their teachers in a very harmful manner. University staff are there to help the students develop intellectually and not to be a means of sanctioning these students."

It is not clear in practical terms how universities could effectively monitor who attends lectures - especially if students refuse to cooperate.

The letter said that applying extra monitoring to students from outside the EU is discriminatory. It asks universities, MPs and anyone else who opposes the changes to tell the government to change them.

Students needing visa extensions will have to give fingerprints from next year as part of a crackdown by the Border Agency.

Ian Grigg-Spall, academic chair of the National Critical Lawyers Group, organised the letter. ®

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