The licences of 57 private colleges have been suspended by the Home Office, which launched a criminal investigation into ETS Global Ltd., the European subsidiary of global testing giant ETS. The Home Office also suspended international recruitment at three universities, after an investigation concluded that around 45,000 immigrants may have fraudulently obtained English language test certificates.
Immigration Minister James Brokenshire made an emergency statement to the House of Commons. In it he said that as a result of the falsified tests, work has alread begun to identify and remove anyone in the country illegally. “The Government does not take such action lightly. But we are clear that this kind of irresponsibility cannot go without serious sanction,” he said.
The “detailed and wide-ranging” investigation by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and the National Crime Agency had uncovered more than 29,000 invalid results and 19,000 questionable results of ETS tests taken in 2012 and 2013. These numbers are expected to climb as more data is obtained.
A spokesman for ETS said: “ETS takes this announcement extremely seriously.” “The Home Office has clearly outlined wide-ranging criminal activity by individuals trying to circumvent all parts of the UK immigration system, which represents a threat to all English language testing providers.” “Integrity and security of our tests is a top priority and we are proactively putting in place significant security reforms for our tests.” The spokesman added that it would continue to cooperate with the Home Office.
ETS’s licence to conduct tests for immigration purposes ended in April following a BBC documentary uncovering systemic cheating in a TOEIC exam at four London colleges. Its TOEFL exam, which is much bigger, was not embroiled in the scandal. However, it did share a licence with TOEIC for Secure English Language Testing (SELT). "The investigation into this “organised criminality” also includes a number of colleges and universities for their failure to ensure that the overseas students they sponsor adhere to UK immigration legislation," according to The Pie News.
The ‘highly trusted’ sponsor status of Glyndwwr University was suspended after the test scores of more than 230 students it sponsored were identified as being invalid. The University of West London (UWL) and the University of Bedfordshire have been barred from sponsoring new international students pending further investigations to decide whether they will also be suspended. Peter John, Vice Chancellor at UWL, said: “The University of West London’s Highly Trusted Status licence has not been suspended. However, our Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) has been reduced to zero, pending an external audit by UKVI early next week. We will be working closely with UKVI over the next seven days and will issue a further statement after that time.”
The Immigration Minister, Mr. Brokenshire, noted that "proof of academic qualifications, attendance at an educational institution and compliance with the Immigration Rules are all required for obtaining a UK student visa." “It is highly doubtful that many of the colleges and some universities were fulfilling their duties as ‘highly-trusted sponsors’” “If these student visa applicants had to cheat to pass an English language test it is highly doubtful that many of the colleges and some universities that sponsored them in numbers were fulfilling their duties as ‘highly-trusted sponsors’.” He added that three-quarters of the file checks by UKVI officers were a cause for concern at some further education (FE) colleges. One college, he added, said that a staff member had told officers they “were not encouraged to report students’ absence or failure because doing so would reduce the college’s income and jeopardise its right to sponsor foreign students”. Brokenshire added that “much of the worst abuse” uncovered through the investigation took place at London sub-campuses. This means that the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) will be conducting inspections in order to determine whether action should be taken against their parent campuses.
The tax body HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has also identified a number of foreign university students earning over £20,000 a year. This appears to be in violation of laws stating that they can work a maximum of 20 hours a week during term time. Almost 300 overseas students at the private London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) worked and paid tax last year. One student was even working 60 hours a week for six months, the government has claimed. “The Government does not take such action lightly,” Brokenshire said. “But we are clear that this kind of irresponsibility cannot go without serious sanction.” “The steps I have outlined today shows we will not hesitate to take firm action against those – students, colleges and universities – who do not abide by their legal responsibilities and resolutely pursue organised criminality to bring those responsible to justice.”