|Chinese agency responds to UK newspaper claims
A Chinese agency has responded to being targeted in a report by the Daily Telegraph which suggested entry standards for universities were being lowered for overseas students and domestic students were being displaced, a claim refuted by UK government.
An undercover reporter visited agents in Beijing and Shanghai representing a fictitious Chinese businessman whose daughter wanted to attend a British university. Seven agencies reportedly offered a place at top universities despite her A-Level grades being lower than the institutions’ usual entry requirements.
The newspaper posted a video of a meeting at Fonton agency in Beijing on its website, where a member of staff is seen suggesting the University of East Anglia as a possible institution to study Mathematics with grades of BBB. The official Ucas application website for UK universities lists AAB-ABB as the grade guide for the course. Other Chinese agencies mentioned in the reports were: Golden Arrows Consulting, Index Education Services, Wiseway, and iLongre.
However, both universities and agencies claimed the newspaper had misrepresented the role that agencies play in the admissions process. Joseph Liu at Fonton, said, “We would like to clarify that Fonton is not able to, does not and has never admitted students onto courses at UK universities and furthermore does not have the requisite authority necessary to do so. Our role in the process is to advise and support students’ applications which are then sent through Ucas to the various university admissions departments for deliberation. The final decision is made exclusively by the university.”
Liu said, “We conduct our business in a professional and legitimate manner.” He added the video was based on a preliminary discussion and the advice was in line with recommendations.
Universities Minister, David Willetts, said that the cap on home students was placed by the government and non-EU students are recruited separately, meaning that no British students are displaced by non-EU students.
Universities are entitled to make discretionary offers to both home and international students regardless of grades. The report did not mention that many international students apply without A-Levels, making grade comparisons more complex. Liu added, “All undergraduate students who do not have A-Levels (100 per cent of our students so far) have to take a compulsory foundation course before entering the first year of university, regardless of the university applied to.”
Bell launches Cambridge redevelopment and new website
Bell has officially relaunched its flagship Cambridge school following a multi-million pound redevelopment.
The renovation includes: improved classroom technology; a redesigned learning centre with a roof terrace, housing 10,000 study resources including laptops, netbooks, Wi-Fi access, DVDs, course books and journals; a flexible social and dining space; a new entrance area, reception and landscaped gardens; and a redeveloped pavilion for a range of sporting and social activities.
The new-look Cambridge campus is accompanied by the launch of a new website, bellenglish.com, which includes a translated microsite for the Chinese market, course and event information, an interactive booking form, a media centre, a student Ezone and an Agent zone with a photo gallery and multimedia downloads.
Tony Anderson, Director of Sales and Marketing at Bell, said, “We’re tremendously proud of our world-class Cambridge campus. This investment reflects our aspiration to be a globally recognised education business that helps millions of people around the world unlock the power of English.”
UK interviews ‘high-risk’ students
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has begun interviewing applicants for student visas from designated “high-risk” countries, following a pilot scheme of interviews in which officials raised suspicions about a number of students. UKBA has given greater powers to officers to refuse applications they believe are not genuine.
The interview scheme commenced on July 30 in markets including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nigeria. UKBA said it expected to interview 14,000 students in the first year about education and immigration history, study and post-study plans, and financial circumstances. In last year’s pilot scheme, 2,300 student visa applicants were interviewed in 13 overseas posts. Officials turned down 17 per cent on the grounds of insufficient English, but said they would have turned down a further 32 per cent on grounds of credibility if they had had the power to do so.
New Zealand uncovers student visa fraud
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is attempting to track down over 200 Chinese students, believed to be at language schools in Auckland, after uncovering evidence of fraudulent activity in student visa applications.
A random sampling of 1,800 applications at the INZ Beijing branch found 279 to contain some form of fraud, mostly fake qualifications or bank statements. A further 17 fraudulently obtained visas were subsequently discovered. Of those applications, 48 have either not yet entered New Zealand or have already left.
At the time of writing, INZ had confirmed five students were awaiting deportation, two had left voluntarily, and a further 31 students had been served with deportation notices. The remaining students were being urged to come forward, with INZ promising that each would be treated individually. Acting Immigration Minister, Kate Wilkinson, said it was possible some of the students may have been misguided and unaware of the fraudulent activity. However, INZ said those on visas that have already expired would be liable for deportation.
In a statement, Wilkinson said it appeared two agents in Beijing were responsible for the cases. However, it was also confirmed that Chinese staff at the embassy were part of the investigation. She added the fraud represented a small percentage of applications and that the system was working as it should. INZ said the students were spread across 23 private language schools in Auckland. The schools have not been named, but two are believed to be under investigation for instances of non-attendance and poor documentation.
Australia’s Tuition Protection service moves forward
Consumer protection for international students in Australia has moved forward with the appointment of professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) as the administrator to the run the Tuition Protection Service (TPS).
PWC held a similar administrative role with the government’s previous Esos assurance fund. Vipan Mahajan, a former Senior Manager in international education in the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, has been announced as the Director. Mahajan said PWC would deliver “a comprehensive, client-focused, end-to-end service to assist international students affected by provider default”. He said PWC would use an online placement system to help students displaced by the closure of their school to find suitable alternative courses.
Concerns had been expressed that no administrator had been appointed as the commencement of the TPS approached. Claire Field, CEO of Acpet, praised Mahajan’s sector background and welcomed the reassurance that key aspects were now in place.
One of the major changes of the TPS, which came into effect on July 1, is that for courses of 24 weeks or longer, providers can only collect 50 per cent of fees prior to commencement of the course. Although agent commission fees are outside the scope of the TPS, agents that collect fees in advance from students before sending to schools must also comply with the legislation.
Field said, “A lack of communication with the sector still sees many providers and their partner education agents confused and concerned about what the changes mean.” She stated that Acpet had specific examples of agents looking elsewhere because of the impact of TPS changes.
English Australia (EA) Chief Executive, Sue Blundell, said the appointment removed some of the uncertainty around TPS and acknowledged PWC’s experience in running the Esos scheme. However, she questioned a lack of experience in the placement of students, “The placement process is very different to the refund process that drove the fund operations where will they bring in the expertise related to placing students appropriately?”
An advisory committee will now develop recommendations for a risk levy to be paid by private providers from 2013. Field said exemptions for public institutions contravened the policy of competitive neutrality and that Acpet would lodge a complaint with the productivity commission. She said Acpet had developed a designated trust account on behalf of members, which complies with the TPS.
Blundell also questioned how much of the levy would go towards the system’s operating costs. She added EA would continue its own tuition assurance. “What is important for students and agents to note is that whilst the TPS arrangements will provide world-leading protection for student visa holders, EA remains the only body providing similar protection to non-student visa holders.”
CEG launches CATS Academy Boston
Cambridge Education Group has continued its expansion into the USA with the launch of a pre-university high school centre in Boston, MA.
Delivered within the Trinity Catholic High School campus, CATS Academy Boston will prepare international and US students for degree study at American universities, with the first intake of students from Grades nine-to-11 (ages 14-to-17) to commence this month, and Grade 12 entry available from 2013.
Students will undertake the high school diploma with a range of compulsory subjects and opportunities to enhance the core curriculum through Advanced Placement courses. A full sports and community service is available, along with a college counsellor to assist with personalised pathway and university application advice from arrival. Accommodation will be provided in fully catered single dormitories, with communal spaces and an onsite gym.
Betty Lee, Marketing Director at CEG, said the company was meeting demand from agents. “We spoke to over 70 agents globally who told us that demand for US high schools was high; but that they faced barriers including the lack of schools in attractive locations, low international student quotas and the difficulties they faced in working directly with the schools themselves, which affected the service levels offered to their clients.
“With CATS Academy Boston, these hurdles are removed and we offer agents and their students a high school in an exceptional location and possessing a proven track record of success,” said Lee.
Study Group launches rebrand and new website
International education provider Study Group has unveiled a new brand identity and website.
According to a company statement, “The redesign recognises the need for a communication platform that reflects the global position of the company, where it sits today and, importantly, the goals and aspirations of Study Group.” The three elements of the new logo represent the three areas of education that the company is most associated with: higher education, language education and career education.
The first development of the new brand identity is the corporate website studygroup.com. “Redesigned, rewritten and rebuilt, the new site successfully positions Study Group as a global leader and opinion former and creates a platform for discussion between Study Group, business partners and other industry leaders worldwide,” said the statement. Sue Damment, Creative Services Director, said, “The response from partners has been overwhelmingly positive and we have seen a sharp uplift of traffic and duration of visit to our corporate site.”