Foreign students at the Maritime Greenwich College have been left disillusioned after discovering that their degrees will not have the accreditation they expected. Phil Baty reports
When Lekrajsingh Ramsohok arrived from Mauritius this year to study for an MBA at Maritime Greenwich College, he soon grew uneasy about what he had signed up for.
For a start, there was the college site itself - too small, said Mr Ramsohok, with considerable understatement.
Maritime Greenwich's main "campus" is squeezed alongside similar private colleges and other businesses in an old office block in Woolwich in South London. It is far removed from the sweeping parkland and stunning architecture of the UN's world heritage site of "Maritime Greenwich", as invoked by the college's name, its nautical logo, and the pictures gracing its publicity material.
The college's second campus, which is at least closer to the famous National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, sits above a discount shop and next to an internet café, on the scruffy Deptford High Street in South London.
Mr Ramsohok was also far from impressed with his fellow students. "What I believed when I applied for the MBA course was that students would have a bachelors and at least two years' work experience," he said. Few of the students, who were all from overseas, could match his two years in the world of work, gained as a process engineer in Mauritius, he said.
But more seriously Mr Ramsohok soon learnt that the MBA he had left his home country to study, at a cost of £5,000 for tuition alone, would not be awarded by the prestigious University of London, as he understood was the position based on his letter of admission.
He learnt that students on the same MBA course had been told that their degrees would be awarded by "Dublin Metropolitan University", a private institution not recognised in Ireland and without recognised international accreditation.
Dublin Metropolitan University acknowledges on its website that while it is "an international private university registered in Ireland and in Cyprus", registration "does not mean accreditation because only publicly funded universities are granted accreditation in either jurisdiction".
One of Mr Ramsohok's fellow students, who asked not to be named, said: "I was told that the degree would be from the University of London, but after a year and a half of hard work I was told last week that an Australian university would award the degree.
"I wanted to complain to the Government that the college is cheating students, but I didn't, because trouble for the college is trouble for the students."
One former senior member of staff at the college, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "There were conscientious MBA students who had paid the college tuition fees and accommodation costs for a year. Their reward was to be a piece of paper - a non-existent degree from a non-existent university."
Narendra Kandel, the principal, said this week that any references to the University of London in the offer letters were due to a simple "unintentional" error in the college's database.
The college runs some undergraduate programmes under the University of London External Programme - distance-learning courses awarded by the university. He said that some MBA students might have received letters with details intended for undergraduates.
Mr Kandel added that the college had an agreement "in good faith" with Dublin Metropolitan to award the MBAs - but this had been cancelled after "it was brought to our attention that this institution was not recognised".
He added that the college had now signed an agreement with an alternative institution to offer a properly accredited MBA. This is the Entrepreneurship Institute Australia, which offers qualifications recognised by the South Australian Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology, under the Australian Qualifications Framework.
Mr Kandel also said that he had withdrawn claims on his website that the college runs "courses in association" with Middlesex University and that it is "approved" by the Department for Education and Skills.
Middlesex has an association with just one type of programme. Middlesex receives a fee of £200 to guarantee that students who pass the college's international foundation programmes will be given places on relevant degrees at the university.
Mr Kandel said that the college had "maybe been inadvertently overenthusiastic in our incorporation of the Middlesex University logo". He added that the claim that the college was "DfES approved" was based on the fact that it is listed on the department's register of education providers.
But the DfES stressed: "Registration does not imply quality standards and should not be used in marketing."
Mr Kandel said that the British Accreditation Council for private education providers had approved the college following an inspection, and that Middlesex had also found the "facilities and resources" in Deptford to be satisfactory.
He said that the college was planning to move programmes out of the Deptford office to "larger premises with more resources" but added that all successful colleges had to begin at a certain level of resources.
"We are a young, modern college that is seeking and aspiring to provide a high quality of education to our students... and a worthy learning experience. We recognise that we have some way to improve and to continue the success that we expect. We would hope... we would be able to provide an excellent learning experience."