Overseas students at the London College of Fashion regularly have their grades increased under a system of "special allowances", leaked documents suggest, writes Phil Baty.
The college, part of the University of the Arts, launched an investigation this week after The Times Higher obtained an e-mail exchange in which a course director encourages a tutor to increase a student's mark, with the comment: "She is an international student so normally we would give her an allowance for that."
When questioned by a colleague about the approach, the director repeats:
"The term Alan [Russell, another course director] uses is that we make allowances for international students."
An LCF spokeswoman said: "The college is taking these allegations very seriously and is undertaking an investigation to get to the bottom of this matter."
The e-mail was written in April last year by Susan Bishop, who was course director for the LCF's foundation degree in fashion marketing and promotion.
She wrote to a colleague, Fiona Ambrose, saying that she had looked at "a selection" of student assignments in public relations.
Ms Bishop cites one student who received positive feedback for her assignment, saying: "It's hard to see why she only got 65 per cent." She adds: "Also she is an international student so normally we would give her an allowance for that such as 70 per cent."
Ms Ambrose, a tutor, replied: "I had no idea that LCF made special allowances on the [course], or indeed any other course, in allocating special marking criteria for overseas students.
"Of course I can see how this criteria if applied would affect the overseas students' grades - but surely it also affects all of the home students' marks as well."
Ms Bishop said that in this case the marks would stand as "none of the students has failed".
The Times Higher was unable to contact Ms Bishop, who is understood to have since left the college. Ms Ambrose declined to comment.
Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said that it was "damaging and patronising to offer dumbed-down qualifications to foreign students".