Private college ‘took public money but failed on quality’

QAA finds lax entry standards at Cardiff college formerly led by principal with ‘falsified’ PhD

June 9, 2016
A car with one half missing
Source: Alamy
Below standard: assessment in Cardiff fell short of requirements and could be completed in four minutes instead of the recommended hour

A damning report on a private college says that large numbers of students did not meet entry standards, that checks on attendance and plagiarism were inadequate and that a former principal falsely claimed to have a PhD from the University of Cambridge.

The Quality Assurance Agency launched a Concerns investigation into West London Vocational Training College, where students were eligible to apply for tuition fee loans and maintenance grants from the public Student Loans Company, after the BBC alleged that prospective applicants to its Cardiff centre were told that they could use fake certificates to enrol and would not have to attend regularly.

In a report on the Cardiff campus, which had around 120 students, the watchdog concludes that the college had used an agent who “had not acted professionally and competently” and that students could potentially have been recorded as having attended despite leaving the college straight after signing in, prior to the introduction of in-class registers in the wake of the BBC broadcast.

The QAA investigation, which was extended to cover the college’s main Wembley campus, discovered a series of further failings. The report on the Wembley campus will be published separately.

Reviewers concluded that, of the 45 students whose files they examined at the Cardiff centre, none was demonstrably qualified to be enrolled on the Pearson-awarded Higher National qualifications in business that the college offered. Nine had a GCSE or equivalent as their highest qualification, with no evidence of work experience, while a further 25 claimed to have work experience. However, the report says that, in all but the case of one student this amounted to “little more than a hint or a mention”, such as: “I just came [sic] unemployed” or “in employment”.

The remaining nine had higher qualifications – an overseas degree in seven cases – but there were limited examples of attempts to verify international certificates and none of these students provided evidence of the required English language proficiency, according to the QAA.

The report raises language proficiency as a wider concern, judging that the online assessment used in Cardiff fell short of requirements and could be completed in as little as four minutes, rather than the recommended hour.

Of the few applications that included personal statements, many were only four sentences long and were poorly written, containing phrases such as “I will be able to help people who wants to make there career [sic]” and “I used to studies business in school so I think it’s will match [sic]”, the QAA found.

The QAA examined six samples of student work and found significant plagiarism issues in three, which were not addressed by markers’ comments. It later emerged that staff used a “plagiarism threshold index” of 25 per cent, meaning no student had been punished.

And the QAA says that the former principal of the Cardiff college claimed to have a Cambridge PhD, which the university confirmed was not genuine, and named as a referee the principal of a Cambridge college of which no record exists.

“When the falsification of a Cambridge award certificate came to light, the evidence suggests that the former Cardiff principal was not immediately dismissed, as the college claimed, but was allowed to resign a few days later,” says the report.

Will Naylor, director of quality assurance at the QAA, said the college had been “found to be wanting”. While the QAA had previously reported confidence in the college’s London centre, it had not visited the Cardiff site previously.

“This is a college that has taken public money but failed to provide the standards and quality of higher education we expect from a UK provider,” he said.

In response to the investigation, the college said that responsibility for the allegations made in the BBC programme “rest[ed] solely” with the agent and the Cardiff principal who were featured.

“'The college continues to maintain high operational standards and procedures,” the college said. “Any allegation of wrongdoing is taken very seriously by West London Vocational Training College Ltd and is acted upon immediately.”

A spokeswoman for Pearson said it had removed centre approval for the London and Cardiff sites.

“Sanctions have also been imposed on two individuals, debarring them from involvement in the delivery of Pearson qualifications and placing a lifetime ban on further applications for centre approval,” the spokeswoman added.

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