QAA inquiry says London campuses not ripe for visa fraud

An inquiry has appeared to dismiss claims that student visa abuse is taking place at London branch campuses

December 17, 2014

The Quality Assurance Agency had been asked to examine student vetting procedures at 13 branch campuses after immigration minister James Brokenshire said there was evidence of abuse on many branch campuses.

Speaking in the House of Commons in June, Mr Brokenshire said a Home Office investigation had found the “worst abuse” of student visas was taking place in branch campuses within London.

The investigation followed a BBC Panorama exposé in February, which revealed systematic cheating in English language tests provided by an organisation called the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

Some 57 private colleges that had used ETS for their language testing had their highly trusted status suspended in June, while three universities were blocked from recruiting international students.

All three have since been allowed to start recruiting students, as have many affected colleges, though Glyndwr University was told to close its London campus.

However, the report by the QAA has now concluded that branch campuses do not present a major opportunity for student visa fraud, stating that they are “well founded and effectively managed”.

Following a review of 13 universities based in other parts of the UK, but who operate at London campuses, the QAA said they are “diligent in approval and validation processes, and conscientious in their ongoing monitoring and review of programmes at their London campuses”.

Student evaluations of the quality of teaching were positive, though the level of student engagement is stronger in some campuses than others, reviewers add, according to the report, titled London Campuses of UK Universities: Overview report of a thematic enquiry by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which was published on 17 December.

Several potential areas of risk are identified, such as insufficient checks on student entry qualifications and systems open to academic malpractice, but reviewers state that universities are taking the right steps to address them.

“Although establishing a London campus is not straightforward, we found that universities are responding well to those challenges and taking them very seriously,” said Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the QAA.

“Our reviewers found that in general universities had carefully considered their plans to set up and operate a base in the capital, and the risks involved with setting up a London campus,” he added.

The report found that more than 8,400 students were enrolled on a course at a London branch campus in 2013-14.

While reviewers were generally positive about the branch campuses, they had specific concerns about the expansion of student numbers at some campuses, which had underestimated the cost and complexity of taking on more students.

They also flagged concerns over agreements with partner organisations who manage admissions, as well as the low rates of progression and completion at some campuses.

Individual universities involved in the enquiry will now take steps to address any issues identified, the QAA said.

However, despite the QAA’s conclusions, a Home Office spokeswoman said the report had identified “serious discrepancies in the way universities run their London campuses”.

“Some of these institutions have established themselves in London solely to attract international students and are not applying the same rules and criteria for admissions or academic results as they do for the main university,” she said.

“Universities must do more to ensure satellite campuses are admitting genuine, high performing students — and to live up to the highly trusted sponsor status they enjoy to bring in foreign students,” she added.

Institutions who benefit from student migration “must work with us to prevent abuse or risk losing their ability to recruit international students”, she concluded.

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