Wales says it is the victim of a conspiracy

BBC and v-cs have run a 'coordinated series of attacks', university claims. David Matthews writes

October 13, 2011

Credit: Reuters
Storm ahead: a BBC exposé of an alleged visa scam has caused the University of Wales headaches

The University of Wales has twice accused the BBC of conspiring against it in response to an undercover investigation of an alleged visa scam at a linked college.

In a letter to Times Higher Education this week, Nigel Palastanga, the university's pro vice-chancellor for learning, teaching and enhancement, claims that the BBC journalist who exposed the alleged improprieties was engaged in a "relentless pursuit" of the institution.

And on 7 October, the university sent a press release - which it later retracted - accusing the BBC and Welsh vice-chancellors of launching a "coordinated" series of attacks against it.

Last week, the BBC's Week in Week out - Cash for Qualifications programme used an undercover reporter to expose staff at Rayat London College - which awards degrees validated by the University of Wales - who were allegedly offering to "sell" a pre-MBA diploma to an overseas student. This would have allowed the student to enrol on a "fast-track" MBA course and thus be able to apply for a two-year overseas graduate work permit before next April, when such visas are to be phased out.

The programme broadcast footage of one lecturer at the college advising students on how to deceive the UK Border Agency. It also aired a secret recording showing the registrar explaining how students would be able to cheat in exams.

Since the programme's broadcast last week, the University of Wales has faced calls to disband from a group of five Welsh vice-chancellors known as the St David's Day Group.

Leighton Andrews, the Welsh minister for education and skills, has also called for the chairman of the council of the University of Wales, Hugh Thomas, to consider his position.

Of the alleged fraud, Professor Palastanga writes: "This serious issue, with implications for all UK universities who enrol overseas students, was obfuscated by the BBC Wales reporter, who undertook a relentless pursuit of the University of Wales - suggesting that they were somehow involved in this scam - but not mentioning by name any of the other universities they had discovered were victims.

"The faculty of the University of Wales absolutely refutes any suggestion that the university knew anything about this illegal practice, and has been appalled that the lack of any evidence did not deter the media from making serious allegations about the university."

The separate press release, titled "University of Wales - The Truth", says the institution "has been under a coordinated attack for 12 months by detractors and competitors".

The university later retracted the release, saying that the statement was an internal briefing note that had been made public by mistake.

BBC Wales declined to comment, as did the reporter who undertook the investigation.

Launching a "new academic strategy" last week, the university said it would no longer validate courses across the world unless it had much tighter control over how they were taught.

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