Uni of Bedfordshire cleared to recruit non-EU students

07, August, 2014

The University of Bedfordshire has been given the green light by the UK Home Office to resume recruitment of non-EU students, as the previous announcement of Highly Trusted Sponsor suspensions continues to impact on the industry.

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The university was one of two institutions that were asked to pause recruitment by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) pending further investigations into Toeic language testing fraud and other areas of compliance, while 58 institutions were suspended from Highly Trusted Sponsor status.

A Home Office Spokesperson confirmed to Study Travel Magazine that the University of Bedfordshire is the only institution cleared to resume recruitment at this stage.

“I was always confident that our procedures for monitoring international students were robust, and I’m pleased that UKVI’s thorough and detailed audit has confirmed this,” said University of Bedfordshire Vice Chancellor, Bill Rammell. “We take our immigration compliance responsibilities extremely seriously. We cooperated with UKVI throughout the audit and I’m delighted that, following this decision, we can now resume issuing CAS letters to new international students.”

A report on UK universities and agent recruitment two years ago revealed that the University of Bedfordshire is one of the UK’s most prolific recruiters through agents.

The Home Office Spokesperson told Study Travel Magazine, “We have worked closely with the University of Bedfordshire to improve their standards for recruiting international students and will continue to work with them to ensure these standards are maintained.

“The government will always act to tackle abuse of our immigration system. Institutions who benefit from student migration must work with us to prevent abuse — or lose their ability to recruit international students.”

Glyndwr University, the only university among the 58 suspended institutions, was said to have had around 290 students with invalid Toeic test scores, and requested an extension to the deadline imposed by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to respond to the suspension. A statement on the university website confirmed it expects a further update in mid-August.

Another suspended institution, The London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) was accused in a speech to the House of Commons by Immigration Minister James Brokenshire of allowing non-EU students to work without the right to do so.

In response to the allegations, LSBF said the Home Office assertion was based on a misunderstanding of the rights of LSBF students. A company statement said of 213 names provided to LSBF by UK Visas and Immigration: 198 currently hold a visa allowing them to work (mostly based on direct sponsorship from a UK university but studying with LSBF under a franchise arrangement); 13 had had studies terminated by LSBF; and two did not appear to have ever been LSBF students.

As a result of the suspension, LSBF has invited a former UK Vice Chancellor to oversee an internal investigation with accountancy and management consultants PWC invited to audit the findings.

Although current students at the suspended institutions are unaffected, there are implications for students due to commence or apply to those institutions, and the Home Office has published a detailed factsheet explaining each scenario.

Students that have a visa but have not yet travelled to the UK are “strongly advised” not to come until the suspension has been lifted; outstanding applications for study at the affected institutions will be placed on hold; and students planning to apply to an affected institution are advised to wait until suspension is resolved.

Underlining the ongoing ramifications of the investigation into Toeic testing fraud and the subsequent inquiry into London branch campuses by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) requested by Brokenshire, one university has voluntarily refrained from international recruitment for its next intake at its London centre.

A spokesperson for the University of Sunderland said, “Given the ongoing investigation into alleged abuse of the student visa system, as highlighted by the [BBC] Panorama programme, the University of Sunderland felt it prudent to temporarily halt its next intake at its London campus until it has assurance of the validity of the English language qualifications presented by new applicants.” The university has promised to reimburse all costs incurred by students planning to arrive in August.

Study travel agents have also responded to the situation. Gokhan Islamoglu, Coordinator of Turkish agency association UED, said he did not expect the suspensions would greatly affect promotion of the UK in the Turkish market. “It is always possible to face these kinds of temporary problems in our sector. However, we all know that these problems will be solved by the co-operation of Turkish agents and UK government bodies.”

With the Toeic fraud relating to test centres in the UK, Islamoglu added that this is an area where agents provide an additional layer of security for educators. “You can be sure that UED member agencies always check their students’ full appropriateness – not only within the content of language levels – for the schools and the programmes they choose.” He said there have been no cases of fraud at Turkish test centres. “As a matter of fact, the visa sections of the British Consulate and Embassy in Turkey are so careful about this and make necessary investigations, and agents are always so keen to support the visa sections in this issue,” he added.

Commenting on the impact of the suspensions and investigations, a spokesperson for Brazilian agency association Belta said, “For agencies, these suspensions had positive and negative aspects. The positive side is the fact of knowing that the UK performs supervision in educational institutions and certification exams. On the other hand, any kind of announced suspension certainly generates insecurity for the students and they get afraid to study in a school which can be suspended during his/her trip.”

The spokesperson added, “According to the information collected by Belta [from member agencies], to tranquilise this situation so that it doesn’t affect the country’s image as an international destination and market for education outbound tourism, it’s necessary to give security for the students travelling to the UK.”

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