The UK Border Agency has responded to comments made yesterday by the Chief Executive of English UK, the national association of accredited English language centres.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, English UK CEO Tony Millns claimed that the new system for licensing education providers contains “a couple of pretty obvious loopholes”, and that “colleges will be able to stay open and be on the register for six months before they are checked” by the UK Border Agency.
The select committee on ‘bogus colleges’, Chaired by Rt Hon Keith Vaz, the former the Minister who was at the centre of the ‘Hinduja Brothers’ passport affair, was also attended by accompanied by Nick Lewis of the Association of Colleges.
Mr Keith Vaz who opened the session by stating that:
“The issue of ‘bogus colleges’ has exposed serious flaws in the immigration system and the provision of visas. We are interested in hearing what action the Minister [Phil Woolas] will take on this problem and his views on the success of the UK Border Agency in its role as a regulator of further or higher education institutions.”
A UK Border Agency spokesman said:
“It is simply not true that colleges can be on the list for six months without being checked. We totally refute any claim that there is a loophole in the new system.
“All colleges receive thorough checks before they are issued a licence to sponsor foreign students. Before an institution can bring over any student we have to be satisfied they are genuine – this includes approval by an accredited body, and assessment of their premises, courses and teaching staff.
“By July this year, every single establishment will have been visited by a UK Border Agency assessor.”
Immigration Matters Comment
I am with the UKBA on this one. Their inspection teams are working flat out to visit educational establishments.
The suggestion put forward by Mr Millns that “that anyone can set up an educational establishment without proper vetting and/or accreditation”, is simply just not true. He does not seem to be aware of the points based system and accreditation procedures.
A training centre or college must first be registered with an awarding body such as Trinity, City and Guilds or OCR to offer accredited courses to resident or overseas students.
Cynthia Barker, Centre Manager of Majestic College, said that the accreditation process by just one awarding body took six months of hard work involving three inspections and a mountain of paperwork.
“They went through everything from policies and procedures to the size of the toilets”, she said.
“We had three inspection visits where our teaching staff, assessors and internal verifier were interviewed and vetted”.
Under Tier 4 of the points-based system introduced for students on 31 March 2009, education providers must have a sponsor licence before they can recruit non EU/EEA foreign students.
If a college wants to recruit overseas students they now have register with the UKBA, but first go through an accreditation process with one of the official bodies appointed by the Home Office.
Colleges are then inspected and put through a rigorous series of checks by the body before their application is even considered by the UKBA.
In Majestic Colleges’ case, the accreditation body was ASIC and the process took “two visits a mountain of paperwork, thousands of pounds in management time and over seven months of hard work”, says Cynthia Barker.
If the college survives the inspection process, and many do not, the application is then looked at by the Sponsoring Unit of the UKBA which carries out its own checks and another inspection.
“Majestic College received a full inspection by the UK Border Agency before being granted a licence”, said Cynthia.
Even if colleges were approved without an immediate UKBA visit, the accreditation body should have gone through the college with a fine tooth comb – which is what they are there for, to accredit colleges.
There is no doubt that the previous system run by DIUS was lax, which is why the Government has taken action and introduced tougher checks and put the onus on colleges to carry out thorough monitoring of students.
The new system will flush most of the bogus colleges, but system is completely flawless and a determined crook will always find a way to beat the system for a while.
Most of the complaints I receive from overseas student concern poorly run, rather than out and out bogus colleges. Accreditation bodies such as English UK should be concentrating on improving the service offered by colleges.
English UK runs its accreditation scheme through the British Council, which also acts in competition with private colleges and therefore has a conflict of interests.
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