UK colleges suspended by Home Office

26 June, 2014


The UK Home Office has halted 57 private further education colleges and three universities from recruiting international students, following investigations into English language testing fraud.



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In a statement delivered to the House of Commons this week, the Minister for Immigration and Security, James Brokenshire, said he had suspended the Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) license from Glyndwr University, after investigations identified 230 sponsored students with invalid language test results, and flagged another 120 scores as “questionable”.

The investigation was conducted as a result of a BBC Panorama documentary that uncovered evidence of fraud at two Toeic test centres in the UK. ETS, the US-based company that administers the test, has provided data analysis to the Home Office that identified 29,000 invalid results and a further 19,000 suspicious results.

ETS has recently withdrawn from its Secure English Language Test contract with the government, meaning Toeic and Toefl, are no longer accepted as evidence of English language ability for UK visas.

A representative of Glyndwr University told BBC News, "The university is deeply upset that its sponsor licence has been suspended by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and is working with them to investigate the issues raised. We have partnerships with a number of suppliers and are incredibly disappointed to have been the subject of any deception or activity that would put that licence under threat.”

Two more universities – the University of Bedfordshire and the University of West London – have been told they are not allowed to recruit new students pending further investigation into whether they should be suspended. The University of West London was said to have had 210 sponsored students with invalid scores.

In a statement, the University of Bedfordshire confirmed it was working with UKVI and had conducted an audit of its international students holding ETS-issued certificates, which “did not provide evidence of any organised attack on the University’s Tier 4 compliance and recruitment”.

The statement continued, “The university’s licence to recruit has not been suspended. Our issuing of ‘Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies’ letters is currently paused, pending a full audit which we had been expecting and which will take place shortly. We are confident we will, through that process, demonstrate the robustness of our procedures.”

The investigations uncovered wider areas of concern within the private FE college sector which has led to the Home Office suspending HTS status from 57 private institutions.

“Overseas students at privately funded further education colleges are not allowed to work at all, yet one college – the London School of Business and Finance – has 290 foreign students who worked and paid tax last year,” said Brokenshire.

A spokesman for the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) said, “We are surprised and disappointed by the Home Office’s announcement today regarding the suspension of the sponsor license of 58 universities and colleges, including the London School of Business and Finance. We take our commitments very seriously and we will work closely with UKVI to resolve this situation swiftly in the near future.”

The Minister suggested that there may be more suspensions to follow, with particular concern over London campuses. “Because much of the worst abuse we have uncovered seems to be taking place at London sub-campuses of universities based in other parts of the country, I can also tell the House that the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education will examine these London campuses to see whether further action should be taken against their parent universities,” he said.

The suspensions do not affect international students already enrolled at the institutions, who will be allowed to continue studies as normal.

During the speech, Brokenshire confirmed that a criminal investigation had been launched into the role of ETS. He also said that immigration officials were working to identify students with falsified tests so that they could be removed from the country.

It was advised that Home Office investigations are focused only on ETS-run English language tests. “Officials from Immigration Enforcement and UK Visas and Immigration have not found evidence to suggest there is systematic cheating taking place in the tests carried out by the other providers.”

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