University academics say they will boycott new visa rules for overseas students that would make them into “immigration snoopers”.
Delegates at the University and College Union’s annual conference said they did not want to become a branch of the UK Border Agency.
Under the new rules universities are expected to monitor whether overseas students really attend their courses.
The Home Office said such things were part of their normal duty of care.
Institutions must also report concerns that a student could be involved in terrorism.
In a debate at the conference, in Bournemouth, delegates argued that the rules would place a strain on the relationship between staff and students from outside the European Union.
General secretary Sally Hunt said: “UCU members are educators not border guards.”
She said later: “Politically, UCU is absolutely opposed to this legislation and we know that many members have strong and principled moral objections as members of society and as professional educators.
“One of the more pernicious effects of this new system will be to turn our members into an extra arm of the police force, placing monitoring and reporting responsibilities onto academic and support staff.”
One of the resolutions tabled for discussion said the new system “makes educators into immigration snoopers which could damage UK education irreparably”.
It deplored “this pandering to anti-immigration racism” and committed the union to “non-compliance with all such policing and surveillance duties”.
But a Home Office spokesman said: “Educational institutions have a duty of care to all their students and checking that they are attending and making progress in their studies is part of that responsibility.
“The records we expect education providers to keep are those which most will keep for their own purposes anyway.”