The Department for Education and Skills has called in the Trading Standards Service to investigate a private medical college after The THES discovered that it had made incorrect claims to have been "affiliated" to two UK universities and had wrongly cited one of the university's campuses as its business address and headquarters.
King's College London and the University of Greenwich admitted this week that they had been accepting payments to provide teaching for the Medical College of London (MCL) - which is run by a US entrepreneur and his wife and is not recognised by the General Medical Council - but they insisted that the college had exaggerated its links to them without permission.
According to its website, MCL offers BSc and MSc medical degrees and a US "MD degree". It claims: "Our programme... will prepare students for both the UK and US medical systems, and for medical systems of most other nations."
Last year, it collected £25,000 in students' tuition fees and £518 in application fees.
On its website, MCL boasts that it is "affiliated with two of the most respected educational institutionsI academic centres include the University of Greenwich at Medway and Guy's campus of King's College London".
A spokesman for King's said: "It is not affiliated with us, and we are entirely bemused to see that they are claiming that."
He confirmed that King's has a contract with MCL to provide anatomy classes for its students. "Five or six students have been attending classes, but we didn't give any award as it was a service agreement. We will review our relationship with this organisation with some urgency."
On its website, MCL lists Greenwich's Anson Building, on its Medway Maritime Campus in Kent, as its main location. MCL, which has been set up as a limited company in the UK, has filed this as its trading address with Companies House.
A spokesman for Greenwich confirmed that this was a legitimate Greenwich address but said MCL had no permission to use it. "The university has not authorised the use of this address by MCL with Companies House. The University of Greenwich does not rent office space to MCL. We have asked MCL to remove references to offices on our campus."
He said: "Greenwich provides tuition on a contract basis to MCL students.
They sit in on undergraduate science lectures but are not students of Greenwich. They are not assessed by, examined by or receive any academic credit from the university."
MCL had a contractual relationship from July 2002, with the private American International School of Medicine (AISM), which operates under licence from Guyana. But seven months after a contract was agreed, AISM declared it void, citing "breach of contract", and demanded MCL stop claiming to be "affiliated".
This week, MCL director Orien Tulp, who runs the company with his wife and co-director Carla Marie Konyk-Tulp, said MCL could provide qualifications leading to medical practice in the UK and the US because it operated under the College of Medicine and Health Science of St Lucia, which awarded its degrees.
The GMC said that MCL was not recognised in Britain and that its degrees "would not satisfy our registration requirements".
The College of Medicine and Health Sciences of St Lucia is listed on the World Health Organisation's world directory of medical schools. But the WHO says it has "no authority to grant any form of recognition or accreditation", which is the responsibility of national governments. The GMC said that a graduate of an institution on the WHO list may apply for "limited registration" with the GMC to practice medicine in Britain, which involves sitting additional competence tests.
"There is no reference to a qualification from this (St Lucian) college on our register, which suggests that we have never registered anyone with a degree from this college," a spokeswoman said.
Mr Tulp said the MCL website, which was created by an outside contractor, would be revised to clarify the fact MCL is not affiliated with King's or with Greenwich. He first denied that he had registered a Greenwich University address as his business address with Companies House, but later said he had taken steps to change it.
"We are not bogus," he said. "We are a limited company in Britain, and our lawyers have gone through the regulations and we are fully legal. We put students through conventional legitimate courses."
He said: "King's and Greenwich invited us to have our students there. Our students attend their classes and are taught by their faculty, and we pay for it. They teach a good part of the programme, and we have some of their faculty to teach other parts."
He would not confirm how much he had paid King's or Greenwich, but Greenwich stressed that it had taught only three students.
A DFES spokesman said: "All institutions offering degree qualifications in the UK must be recognised. If they are not, they must make it clear that they are not offering British degrees. Having discussed this with the Council of Heads of Medical Schools to see if anything was remiss, we have now decided to ask the local trading standards, which is responsible for enforcement, to investigate the Medical College of London."