The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has published it’s report on ‘Bogus Colleges’ yesterday, heavily criticising the Government for not doing enough to control rogue educational institutions and illegal immigration.
MPs on the committee claim that tens of thousands of foreign nationals “may” have been brought into the UK illegally by fake colleges.
In a highly critical report, they said the word “college” should be restricted to institutions accredited by the state, although it fails to explain how this would help the situation or what current colleges would end up being known as.
The Government have recently introduced the points-based system and new regulations to control educational providers to ensure that only genuine foreign students can now obtain a student visa.
Under Tier 4 rules, which took effect at the end of March this year, study visas will only be issued to students enrolled at educational providers on the more tightly controlled UK Border Agency (UKBA) Sponsors Register.
Despite the fact that the new system has only just started, the committee, chaired by Keith Vaz MP, were still not satisfied and said they were “extremely disappointed” that the Government had ignored repeated warnings from the education sector about the problem of bogus colleges.
Since March this year, colleges recruiting students from outside the EU must have first been registered and inspected by an accreditation body on behalf of the UKBA. In addition, the UKBA will have sent one of their officers to inspect the college before granting the licence or within six months of approval.
The committee found that around 2,200 colleges were not transferred to this new list, and have concluded that a “significant proportion” of these were bogus.
However, their findings, heavily influenced the state sector, has ignored that fact that hundreds of colleges are awaiting accreditation or UKBA approval.
Cynthia Barker, Centre Manager of Majestic College, which had a pre-approval UKBA inspection, said the licensing process took nine months,
“We had three inspections by ASIC and the UKBA over a nine month period and had to push every inch of the way to obtain our sponsors licence.
“Some colleges have gone out of business waiting to be accredited or because they could not meet the strict new criteria, but this does not necessarily make them a ‘bogus’ college.”
The new Tier 4 register now contains around 1,500 colleges, all of which have gone through a rigorous application and inspected process by the UK Border Agency.
The committee welcomed this “more effective” regime, but said it was “deeply concerned” that the agency was giving colleges notice of its inspection visits.
It said ministers had been very slow to act when warned about the whole problem, and that this was “unacceptable”.
The report said:
“Firm enforcement action must be taken against any individual whose student visa has expired to ensure that they leave the country, as well as against those who have set up bogus colleges to perpetrate visa fraud.
“We have received no evidence that the Home Office has made adequate preparations to deal with this issue.”
“While the new sponsorship system under the points-based immigration system should help to prevent bogus colleges, we consider that a more complete means of prevention requires the compulsory regulation of private further education colleges and English language schools by the state.”
Committee Chairman, Keith Vaz, said:
“Bogus colleges may have allowed tens of thousands of foreign nationals to enter the country illegally.
“The Government has been aware of their existence for 10 years and done nothing to stop them.
“This is totally unacceptable and frankly, quite unbelievable.”
He said immediate action was needed:
“The Government must restrict the term ‘college’, to prevent any premises above a fish and chip shop from being able to claim it is a reputed educational institution.”
The MPs said this would protect students from coming to sub-standard, unregulated places.
The committee did not find any substantial evidence of the alleged link between bogus colleges and terrorist activity.
Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said:
“No institution can bring students into the country unless we are satisfied they are genuine – this includes approval by an accredited body, and assessment of their premises, courses and teaching staff.
“Since April, the UK Border Agency has carried out nearly 100 unannounced checks on institutions throughout the UK and they are doing more every week.”
“Before we tightened controls around 4,000 UK institutions offered courses to foreign students, but under the new system only around 1,600 can currently bring students into the country from outside Europe.
“We have already rejected over 500 establishments’ applications.”
Even allowing for those colleges currently in the pipeline, these figures would indicate that the new system is weeding out bogus colleges previous on the old DIUS register.
The report follows a BBC London television investigation earlier this year into a small number of bogus colleges, one in particular using the name of ‘Cambridge’, which was offering diplomas without study.
There are a number of legitimate colleges using the name ‘Oxford’ or ‘Cambridge’ which are clearly not connected with the real Universities, however, this does not mean they are bogus or offer fake qualifications.
Immigration Matters Comment
The committee’s report appears to be based mostly on pure supposition and on “expert testimony” from partisan witnesses. It has produced little or no hard evidence to back its vague claims.
Even if the reports figures of illegal immigration were correct, they would be the result of the previous regulatory system which the Government has spent the last five years and millions of pounds overhauling.
For Mr Vaz, an MP – no stranger to immigration controversy in the Hinduja Brothers case some years ago, leading to his exile to the back benches – to say that the Government has “done nothing” undermines his own Labour controlled Government’s work in bringing about the biggest shake up in immigration history: points based system, UK Borders Act, Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Act and a raft of other immigration rule changes. One wonders what planet Mr Vaz has been living on for the last few years.
Even with laws and regulations, there will always be a rogue element in any walk of life, whether it be cowboy builders or Members of Parliament fiddling their expenses and claiming for non-existent mortgages.
We all deplore the crooks who run bogus colleges and those who disappear with students money without providing any training. But let’s not tar every small college with the same brush, or “conclude” that because they are not yet on the sponsors register they must be bogus.
The UK Border Agency has introduced a tough new regulatory system for student visas, including abolishing the right of appeal, less than four months ago. We should at least give the system a chance to prove itself before shooting it down in flames.
Overseas students are worth £8 billion to the UK’s cash-strapped economy, according to Home Office figures.
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