For just £300 You can study English in Oxford - Street, that is

July 30, 2004

Apart from the thousands of shoppers parading along Oxford Street, the other pedestrian hazard are the dozens of people holding signs advertising the numerous private colleges along the street.

The private colleges' brochures offer anything from basic English and computing courses to full degrees for £3,500 a year.

We decided to ask these private colleges (and we are not suggesting they are not bona fide ) whether they would welcome the same inspection regime that safeguards academic standards in publicly funded colleges and universities.

Our first port of call was Scotts College, reached via a narrow flight of stairs on a side street off Oxford Street. Unfortunately, no one was available to speak to me. But during a later phone call, principal Marian Gathier welcomed calls for inspections of institutions such as hers: "It would be a very good idea."

Across the street at number 39, United College London - or UCL as its logo proclaims - the blue carpet and bright red chairs in the reception smelt so new the plastic could have come off yesterday. It offers English courses for Pounds 300 a year.

Again, the manager was not there - he was at Great Chapel College a few doors up, I was told.

Paul Rollings, the principal, was plucked out of a class to talk to me. He sees no reason why private colleges should not be inspected. "All colleges should have some form of official recognition," he said. "I can see the Government's point of view."

All teachers at Great Chapel have a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification and a degree, said Mr Rollings, who joined the college - motto "Reach For Your Future" - after teaching English in Spain. He said the students came from, among other countries, Brazil, China and Poland.

My final port of call was West End College of Higher Education, where again I was promised that the director would call me later in the day. He did not and perhaps it was just as well, for I would have asked him why his school uses the "University of London External Programmes" logo on its brochure without permission.

Gavin Jones, UL external programme communications manager, said very few institutions were allowed to do so and they had no knowledge of West End College.

Another two schools' flyers also use the UL logo: London City Institute and Williams College. Mr Jones said there had been preliminary discussions with both over the use of the logo but no final decisions had been made. The External Programme will be contacting all three schools asking them to remove the logo from their brochures and prospectuses, he said.

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