UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the ‘hostile environment’ at Sussex.

The petition claims that “successive UK governments have been fostering a hostile environment to migrants, people of colour, and Muslims”. The ‘hostile environment’ refers to national policy including the Windrush scandal and  surveillance of young people in educational institutions as examples of this systematic xenophobia.

The petition poses six specific concerns to Mr Tickell, including that he make public his opposition to Prevent and Immigration Monitoring. It also raises concerns about the unjust targeting of Muslim students under the guise of ‘Prevent Duty’, and accuses the University of monitoring international staff and students, making them report on their whereabouts, and even threatening home visits.

The University was contacted by The Badger and asked to comment, but none has been issued as of yet.

Prevent legislation has been a contentious issue in universities since it was introduced in 2015.

The petition asserts that “University of Sussex staff have been trained to watch for radicalisation and conduct everyday surveillance on students”. According to the University’s website, Prevent Duty training is “mandatory for University Senior Management Team, Directors of Student Experience (DoSE), Academic Advisers and Professional Services Managers and “First responder” staff”. The University also makes clear that in response to this training, attempts have been made to raise awareness and understanding of Unconscious Bias.

Unconscious Bias training is not mentioned in the petition, however this may be because it does not appear to be mandatory, unlike Prevent training. What is stated in the petition is that Muslim students have been specifically targeted by Prevent officers, “contributing to an atmosphere of racial hostility for Muslim students and staff”.

This has led the Students’ Union to stand against the implementation of Prevent on campus, however the University has been found compliant with Prevent by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The petition also references the University’s implementation of immigration monitoring, which, it asserts, creates an atmosphere of xenophobia, as well as “violating labour rights as staff on visas are limited in taking strike action”. The petition alleges that the University has threatened to revoke visa sponsorship based upon strike participation,  and has used reactionary and xenophobic language during discussions with staff on these issues.

In an email seen by The Badger, sent out by the Human Resources (HR) Compliance Office to members of staff, it was confirmed that strike action does count as an ‘unauthorised absence’, going on to state that if a sponsored worker is absent from work without pay for more than four weeks, their sponsorship would be terminated. However the HR Office has not confirmed whether four weeks is measured as 20 days or 28 days, despite, the UCU claims, multiple inquiries being made.

The email also stated that if a worker’s pay is reduced to below the rate referred to in their sponsorship certificate, the University would terminate the contract. Due to reductions in pay during strike action, this seems to confirm that staff on visas are limited in taking part in strike action, as the petition asserts.

In a letter to Mr Tickell, the UCU asked whether the University would commit not to dock pay from staff on Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas during strike action, so as not to impinge upon these workers’ rights, stating that this “would reflect [the University’s] own repeated assurances that [it] respect the legal rights of all staff to strike without fear of reprisals”. Pointing out that “Being subject to deportation constitutes severe reprisal”.

The petition claims that “the University has informed international staff on Tier 2 visas that that it will be closely monitoring their whereabouts and making them report on their whereabouts, possibly on a daily basis”. It is also stated that both students and staff on visas (tiers two, four, and five) are subject to surveillance and have been threatened with home visits by the university.

Some members of staff were invited to comment on this issue, but declined, one stating that they feared for the reaction of the University, given their visa status.

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