Daft things that happen in higher education – Number 1

We’ve just had to cancel a doctoral viva, and start again on the laborious process of finding a time that suits the student, external examiner and internal examiner. Nothing to do with the student or the examiners. But I work for an employer who insists that all staff must show a passport to prove that they are eligible to work in the UK.

We even have to present our passport if we have worked for the university for over a decade (as I had when the university told me to prove that I was who I said I was). Or, in the case of an external examiner, if you come from another UK university to do us a big favour. And my university isn’t unique.

I do not believe the official line about this being a Border Agency requirement. Even the battiest UKIP hardliner doesn’t believe that illegal immigrants will swarm into Britain to conduct doctoral examinations.

I have recently examined doctorates in two other universities, both large and distinguished, who did not ask to see my passport. They simply sent a letter of guidance on external examining, which included a sentence explaining that if I was not entitled to work in the UK, then I should let them know.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being an academic, and I don’t buy into the nonsense about administrators who contribute nothing but extra trouble. But this is a daft practice, and it is unnecessary. It makes us look silly and it wastes time. It’s not the only mildly irritating or baffling thing to go on in our much-loved sector, so expect another blog on this topic very shortly.

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6 thoughts on “Daft things that happen in higher education – Number 1

  1. So UK thesis examination can’t be conducted by people from outside the UK, or Europe? You couldn’t, for example, have a thesis examined by an Australian or an American, using Skype for the viva? I suppose the Australian/American examiner could go through a lengthy process to prove that they were eligible to work in the UK before they could agree to be an examiner., but who would bother?

    This seems crazy.

    • Thank you for your comment. It is perfectly possible for the UK thesis to be examined by people outside the EU. But I have to confess that I have no idea how the university handles what it believes to be its obligations to the Border Agency in such cases. We recently had a Skyped viva from Melbourne, so I will try to find out. Great question!

      • John, speaking as someone who deals with this ridiculous requirement on a daily basis, I’d advise that non-EEA examiners will normally either be working in the UK and therefore have a visa in their passport which they can show to demonstrate eligibility, or be coming in to the UK, in which case they can get a special short-term paid employment visitor visa which allows them to examine.

        if they aren’t entering the UK – i.e. it is by skype – they aren’t working in the UK and no-one needs to check their passport.

        I’ve seen confirmation in writing from UKBA that examiners are employees, and therefore need their passports checking before they start work (regardless of nationality or where they might be employed already).

  2. Hi John
    I can’t help thinking this has something to do with which team you support in the Six Nations rugby. It’s clearly about national loyalties from an organisation that calls itself the Border Agency. Have they re-introduced a customs checkpoint yet? Cheers Darryl

  3. I have just had the same thing in my University, in which someone has decided that we will require a passport for ALL research degree external examiners, even those working currently in the UK at another institution. This is of course insane! I too cannot believe the UKBA really wants this.

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