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Study UK response to immigration minister’s statement on English testing fraud

25 June 2014

Study UK, the UK’s leading association for independent further and higher education institutions and specialist training providers, has responded to a statement by the Immigration Minister in the House of Commons yesterday. This follows a Home Office investigation into fraudulently obtained English language certificates issued by formerly approved test provider ETS. The Home Office has moved to suspend the Tier 4 licences of three publicly funded universities, and 57 private colleges and language schools. Additionally, the QAA, the UK’s quality watchdog, will mount an inquiry into 14 British university ‘branch campuses’ in London and further action may be forthcoming.

Sue Hindley, Chair of Study UK, said: “Study UK strongly supports the Government’s commitment to eradicating all abuse of the student visa route and we welcome the vigorous response by the Home Office in investigating this fraud.

“The integrity of the UK’s SELT arrangements is of paramount importance, but the fact that problems have been identified by the Home Office in both universities and private providers clearly underlines that this issue extends to all parts of the education sector. We understand that a criminal investigation is now underway and we look forward to a swift resolution to this matter and those responsible being held to legal account.

“Should any Study UK members be affected by Home Office action in relation to these matters, we will investigate and take action accordingly. Study UK demands high standards from all of its members in terms of both educational quality and responsible recruitment. Our members all sign up to a Code of Practice which commits them to ethical trading practices, one of which is to ensure that admissions requirements are set so as to maintain appropriate academic standards, and so that students enrolled on a course have a reasonable expectation of successfully completing it. We further expect our members to have satisfied themselves that any international student they admit is genuine and has both the academic and linguistic capability to study at the level required. Where we find compelling evidence that a member is failing to uphold this Code, we can and will hold them accountable and can ultimately terminate their membership.

“Regarding the QAA investigation into the quality and standards of UK universities’ London campuses, where the Immigration Minister claims that “much of the worst abuse” has taken place, it is clear that further problems may be uncovered that extend beyond the three universities named yesterday (Glyndwr University, the University of West London and the University of Bedfordshire).

“While the many successful partnerships between publicly funded universities and independent colleges have long been a strength of the UK’s diverse Higher Education sector, Study UK has been concerned that the accelerating proliferation of new collaborative agreements since 2011 may include a number of ‘arms-length’ arrangements for which the due diligence undertaken was not sufficient. Where new relationships may have been entered into hastily, the motivating factor will undoubtedly have been the commercial advantage in international recruitment that has been enjoyed by universities since the 2011 changes to Tier 4.

“Those well-established collaborative partnerships with the most successful track record in the UK are invariably underpinned by a firm foundation of mutual respect and academic complementarity. It is therefore essential that there be a similar academic as well as commercial rationale behind any new such partnerships also. The Home Office could help to ensure this prioritisation of academic concerns by rolling back the differential treatment of international students based on the type of institution and the course that they choose.”

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