Illegal immigrants are abusing the university admissions system to gain entry to the United Kingdom, overseas student advisers fear.
Sheffield Hallam University is investigating the whereabouts of ten Indian students it accepted for entry this year who have failed to show up on campus.
Sunderland University and the University of North London, among others, have also voiced concerns about bogus students, mainly from India and Pakistan, who have registered with them but have failed to attend courses.
The UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs has been concerned for some time that bogus students are seeking and gaining acceptances to degree courses to establish overseas student status, which allows them to enter the UK. They then disappear.
There have been reports of purported students using fake qualifications provided by criminal gangs to get on degree courses and others using legitimate qualifications to get into the UK. Even when students pay large and non-recoverable deposits for tuition fees, the cost will often be cheaper than arranging illegal entry.
Sheffield Hallam has confirmed that ten of the 80 students it accepted from India did not turn up this year. A spokesman said they could be in India or en route to the UK. The university is investigating.
UNL student support manager Claude Coopersmith told an internet forum of advisers that the university "frequently" encountered students, mainly from India and Pakistan, who after arriving in the UK deferred entry for six months or a year. Sometimes they would then "completely disappear", he said.
UNL keeps all course fees if students defer and returns fees to withdrawing students only when they arrive back in their home country.
An adviser at Sunderland is canvassing colleagues for cases in which people "present themselves as students when in fact they are not attending lecturers, nor paying any fees and instead they are working".
Home Office entry clearance officers reject 12 per cent of student visa applications, more than double the rate for all applications. This suggests a high rate of abuse.
Universities are encouraged by the government to recruit large numbers of full fee-paying overseas students. They are reluctant to report disappearances in case entry clearance officers clamp down on legitimate students and damage recruitment.
But Sheffield Hallam's international student adviser, Vivien Thom, told her colleagues in a discussion forum: "There is a feeling that the university should inform the High Commission in India about these students in case we are seen as a soft touch and in future the authorities will not grant visas for students coming here."