Melton 'comedy of errors'

February 4, 2000

"The governing body have been advised that there did not appear to be any truth in the allegation." This was how governors at Melton Mowbray College announced the establishment of an independent inquiry into reports in The THES that the college had recruited suspected illegal immigrants as students. "The results of the investigation will be made public when they are available," the college said in September last year.

In December, former chief inspector of colleges Terry Melia completed his investigation. The governors issued a statement to The THES: "The college has been exonerated from any alleged misconduct." But the college refused to release the report. The THES has now obtained a copy. Dr Melia found:

The college ignored warnings from the British High Commission in Sri Lanka that one of its students may have obtained her visa by deception. "In spite of this (warning)," Dr Melia reported, the college "confirmed (her) enrolment at the college by accepting an enrolment fee" two days after being alerted to the likelihood of her arrest. "The college was not acting illegally," he said.

A "comedy of errors stemming from slipshod administration", including "a failure by the college to attend to crucial administrative details such as checking draft letters for factual errors, particularly in relation to course entry requirements", saw one bogus student gain a visa to Britain, only to disappear on arrival.

Dr Melia reports that the college rejected the student for an intermediate level GNVQ course because of poor English, but eventually agreed to offer him a three-month intensive English-language course, which would be followed by a BTEC advanced diploma.

The original basic English entry requirement, which the student did not have, was inadvertently left in formal correspondence, blocking his visa clearance. That was removed and the visa obtained, but he "failed to meet the taxi sent to the airport to meet him on arrival from Sri Lanka". A month after he disappeared, the High Commission in Sri Lanka told the college: "You offer low- level courses to people with low qualifications and poor English. These people fit the exact profile of the likely immigrant."

Dr Melia also noted that students had been invited to apply for course information "by writing to the home address of the college's director of client services", Chris Eveling. "However innocent the intentions were this is not acceptable practice and should be discouraged," he said.

Dr Melia reported that the clerk to the governors, Denise Reed, a friend and neighbour of then-principal Ken Masters, claimed that she applied for her job in response to an advert in a shop window. She was the only applicant, and was given the job after an "informal" interview with the then-chair of governors. Dr Melia was "unable to trace a copy of either the advert for the post of clerk to the governors or the person who placed it in the window of the college shop". Although he found no evidence that Ms Reed had compromised her independence, he said her post should be readvertised. The college rejected this and confirmed her in the post.

Dr Melia also noted it was not within his remit to examine a "climate of fear and mistrust" at the college. He said: "My main criticism of the college in its dealings with overseas students related to its administrative arrangements for applications."

In general, he found that the college's overseas recruitment was "a legitimate strategy" and that it generally "fulfils its duty of care to overseas students". He said it also worked closely with the High Commission in Sri Lanka and that he had been told by the commission that it had confidence in the college's recruitment of overseas students.

The college this week confirmed that Mr Masters was on a one-year sabbatical, during which time the college will be run by FEFC-approved troubleshooter, Bill Bevan.

WHISTLEBLOWERS

Want to blow the whistle?

Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email phil.baty@thes.co.uk.

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