American foreign study programmes are reviewing the promises they make to students in the wake of legal action against a college that allegedly misrepresented itself as an affiliate of Oxford University.
Warnborough College, which is sited a few miles outside Oxford, has been accused of deceptive advertising, dropped from American government-backed educational loan programmes and banned from recruiting students in Washington State, where it had its principal United States office.
Warnborough's promotional brochure pictures Oxford colleges and describes it as "the leading gateway into Oxford for international students" and "the American college in Oxford". Yet the American students who arrived there in September found the school was not in Oxford and had no affiliation with the university. More than half immediately left for home.
"American institutions that run programs in England, even legitimate programs, are concerned, because everyone is tainted by something like this," said Jane Cary, an assistant dean at Amherst College and former head of the section on US students abroad of the Association of International Educators. "It's going to take a while before that suspicion is lifted. No matter how scrupulous they were before, everybody will be doubly so now."
Oxford remains a particular draw for US students, and Warnborough College played heavily on it. The words Oxford University are heard 14 times on a promotional audio tape, for example, before Warnborough itself is even mentioned.
"They used the Oxford name to bait everybody," said Jessica Custer, 18, who was surprised when she arrived at Warnborough to discover it was not affiliated to the university. She has since returned to the US.
"The image of an Oxbridge education is something that can easily be misused," said John Pearson, director of international programs at Stanford University. "I would hope that anybody who offers any study abroad program will look at what happened here, go back to their own literature and look at it very critically."