UK suspends Toefl & Toeic pending fraud probe

10 February, 2014

The UK Home Office has suspended the Toefl and Toeic tests taken in the UK, pending the results of an investigation into fraudulent practices at two test centres uncovered by a BBC documentary.

Photo: Shutterstock

Screened on February 10, the BBC Panorama programme, which used genuine non-EU students posing as clients looking to remain in the UK and extend their student visas, exposed in-country immigration advisors and two test centres. In one case “fake sitters” were provided to take the Toeic test on behalf of all the applicants in the room, and in another exam the multiple choice answers were provided to the test-takers.

The suspension relates to Toefl and Toeic exams, administered by ETS, taken inside the UK. A Home Office spokesperson confirmed to Study Travel Magazine that exams taken outside the UK were not affected and student visa applications from overseas could proceed as normal.

Home Secretary, Theresa May, was passed evidence uncovered by the BBC investigation and said in a statement, “We have taken action and suspended the two colleges identified in the programme. Applications made by students in the UK using the English Testing Service (ETS) or associated with the colleges or immigration advisors mentioned in the programme have been put on hold pending the outcome of those investigations.

“All further English language tests done through ETS in the UK have been suspended.”

One of the test centres under investigation is Eden College International in East London. In the Panorama programme, the college denied complicity in the frauds and said it terminated the contracts of three freelance Toeic exam invigilators last year following investigations. The other test centre implicated by the BBC was Universal Trading Centre in Watford.

The programme also showed how two London-based immigration consultants were able to procure fake documentation for a student visa extension on behalf of the undercover researchers, including educational history papers and bank statements.

May said that government reforms had curbed abuses within the student visa system. “However, as Panorama has highlighted, much more needs to be done. This type of abuse is not acceptable and as criminals, bogus colleges and economic migrants seek new ways to exploit the system, we will continue to change our methods to clamp down on them,” she said.

A statement on the ETS website said, “The UK Home Office has requested ETS suspend Toeic and Toefl testing in the UK related to immigration purposes. Candidates who have appointments to take a Toeic of Toefl test for immigration purposes will be contacted to process a refund. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

In a statement quoted in the Telegraph newspaper, ETS said it maintained the most thorough test security protocols in the world and works with the police and government agencies to cancel suspect scores and, if necessary, close test centres.

“When testing on a global basis, no test provider can claim 100 per cent prevention or detection of fraudulent activity, but ETS does everything it can to detect and prevent rare instances of dishonest test administrators or test-takers.”

However, Tony Millns, Chief Executive of English UK, said, “The problem appears to be that the testing body, ETS of Princeton New Jersey, has not been sufficiently rigorous in its test centre approval process and its monitoring, since if there was large-scale fraud it should have had suspicions about a centre with a very high pass rate or very high (100 per cent) test scores by several candidates on the same test.”

It is not clear at this stage how long the investigation and suspension are likely to last.

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