Have you swiped your smart card?

The Quadrangle, Newcastle University.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, Peter Clarke.The Quadrangle, Newcastle University. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Peter Clarke.

The new monitoring attendance system has been met with criticism from students, who have reported systematic issues.

Several students have claimed that they were marked “absent” on S3P (Student Self Service Portal) despite swiping their smart cards.

Some have started taking photographs in the lectures as a precaution and proof of their presence.

The university has moved to reassure students over reported issues with the system claiming that the problem is students not swiping their cards correctly.

Jonathan Gray, student data administrator, said:

“In the four weeks since we started with the smart card scanners, we haven’t seen a single technical problem with the system — all scanners are working.

“We believe that many of the issues that have been identified are students getting used to the new process scanning their cards correctly.

“We have observed that some students holding their cards over the light, while the actual sensor is in the lower part of the scanner.

“We have observed students who have their card inside their wallet or purse — if you’re just waving your wallet, the scanner could be reading the bank card.”

As Gray explained, the card reader doesn’t identify the student cards — it only records the chip number, date, time and location, and only when these four pieces of data match the timetable, student is marked in attendance.

The IT service has already reported scores of unrecognised scans that do not match any student cards from Newcastle University.

The institution urges students to follow the rules that have been printed alongside most scanners to avoid any confusions and attendance issues.

But several international students have already voiced concerns about their immigration status, pointing to a number of times they have been marked “absent” this semester.

To comply with the conditions of a Tier 4 visa  students must attend the institution that issued  them a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS).

Sheha Vincent, international officer, said: “Since this smart card attendance system has been started, many international students have been having problems with their attendance.

“It affects us more severely than it does other students — our immigration status is based on our attendance to the university.”

Vincent told The Courier that she would consider launching a campaign to urge the university to introduce more “student-friendly policies”.

She added: “First we need to see how many students have been severely impacted by it and get the stats and all the information.”

Azaliya Iskakova, a media student, said:

“It’s a great concern for me as an international student, as irregular attendance may result in the withdrawal from the program.

“I have eight absences on S3P of which I missed only two. I swiped my card every time I enter the room and the green light always flashed.

“Nobody knows the card policy rules and even teachers say different things regarding the timing when the card can be swiped.

“I tried to ask our school secretary about this problem, but she replied that she can’t change the register.”

Gray sought to reassure students, saying: “If you say you were in attendance at a particular lecture, and the system says you weren’t, I need some evidence to prove that you were there.

“If your lecturer or seminar leader can vouch for you, than we will mark you as in attendance.”

But he admitted that it could be “difficult across the whole campus with several thousands students”.

According to Gray, the university has a “long established” process monitoring overseas students’ attendance, and no case would be reported to the Home Office without thorough investigation.

He said: “We’ve been recording student attendance for about eight years now.

“So, for international students we’ve got a well-developed process to analyse their attendance. We contact students if they’ve got particularly low attendance and invite them to explain it because they can have health problems or personal issues.”

But unrest is also growing among home students, who are dissatisfied with the way the new attendance monitoring system has been introduced.

Harry Young, a business student, said:

“I do not believe it was appropriately rolled out into campus.

“As Business School students, we were first introduced to this system in September. A friend from my course did not realise it, and despite attending lectures and continuing with the course, he was not allowed to sit some of his January exams as the university believed he was no longer a student.

“I don’t believe this is constructive or appropriate in terms of handling student attendance, and a system like this that relies so heavily on student participation should not have such extreme consequences.”

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