Private colleges are warned of inspection visits

MPs concerned about immigration examinations and accrediting agency. Melanie Newman reports

July 21, 2009

Immigration authorities are giving privately run colleges advance notice of inspection visits in most cases, according to a new report by the Home Affairs Committee.

The cross-party committee of MPs says the UK Border Agency’s practice of giving warning in up to 85 per cent of cases is “unacceptable” and does not inspire confidence.

The Bogus Colleges report, published on 21 July, says that less than half the institutions registered to admit foreign students in 2009 had been visited by the Border Agency.

Of 705 visits that have taken place, only 100 have been unannounced, it says.

The committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Keith Vaz, also reports concerns within the sector about a new body approved by the Border Agency to accredit colleges as legitimate educational providers.

Allegations that several bodies approved by the Accreditation Service for International Colleges (ASIC) “have been associated with inappropriate activities” are “very worrying”, the MPs say.

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, has also raised concerns about a lack of transparency in ASIC’s management, governance and finance, although ASIC’s chief executive, Maurice Dimmock, has denied any impropriety.

“We suggest that [the UK Border Agency] look closely at these allegations,” the report says, noting that the agency is currently reviewing its accrediting organisations.

The former Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is castigated by the committee for failing to check on the quality of bodies presenting themselves as international colleges, and for failing to listen to concerns in the sector about fake institutions.

Dozens of colleges on an official DIUS register of education providers between 2005 and 2009 were bogus, allowing foreign nationals entry to the country on fraudulently obtained student visas.

A total of 69 colleges were removed from the Register of Education Providers after visits from the Border Agency, the Bogus Colleges report says.

The register was scrapped this year and replaced by a list of sponsors under the points-based immigration system, but concerns about the number of fake colleges remain.

“There are about 2,200 colleges that were on the Register of Education Providers but are not on the register of sponsors,” the report says.

“While failure to transfer… does not automatically mean a college is ‘bogus’, we suspect that a significant number of these colleges are not legitimate.”

The report suggests that the use of the term “college” should be restricted – an idea first mooted by the Association of Colleges in 2006.

“We strongly recommend that the Government use the Companies Act 2006 to restrict use of the word ‘college’ in future to properly accredited organisations and instigate an inspection regime to enforce this,” the committee says.

No substantial evidence of a link between bogus colleges and terrorist activity was found by the MPs, who suggested that most individuals entering the UK on bogus student visas did so in order to work illegally.

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