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University leaders warn against “panic” over visa fraud probe

The Home Office must ensure that current international students are not “panicked” by new investigations into the abuse of the student visa system, Universities UK has warned.

Three universities and 57 private colleges have been told they cannot sponsor any new international students in a major crackdown on suspect English language qualifications.

At the same time it was announced that the London campuses of 14 universities would be investigated by the Quality Assurance Agency. James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, said the “worst abuse” of student visas were taking place at London branch campuses.

Following the news, a Universities UK spokesman said that the “panic” and “worry” among students and their parents which followed the revoking of London Metropolitan’s visa licence must be avoided.

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, president of Universities UK, said: “The Home Office must work with the institutions in question to address the issues identified, without negatively impacting international students and applicants at these universities. It is important that current international students at these institutions are reassured that they will not be affected by this action.”

He insisted that levels of student visa abuse in the university sector were very low compared to other education providers and that institutions had made significant investment in immigration compliance and were now spending £67 million a year.

The Home Office has suspended the highly trusted status of Glyndwr University, in north Wales, which enables it to sponsor the visas of non-European Union students.

The University of Bedfordshire and the University of West London have been told that “they are no longer allowed to sponsor new students pending further investigations which will decide whether they too should be suspended”.

A total 14 campuses in the capital will come under the scope of further investigations. The universities affected are Anglia Ruskin University, Bangor University, Coventry University, University of Cumbria, University of East Anglia, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glyndwr University, University of Liverpool, Loughborough University, Northumbria University, University of Sunderland, University of Ulster, University of Wales Trinity St David, and the University of South Wales.

The clampdown follows a BBC Panorama investigation in February which revealed systematic cheating in English language tests conducted by an organisation called the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

Glyndwr University, said that it was “deeply upset” that its sponsor licence has been suspended and  “incredibly disappointed” to have been the subject of any deception.

“To be put in this position by external partners is frustrating as Glyndwr University takes its responsibility as a Highly Trusted Sponsor very seriously and is committed to supporting the continuing education of those genuine international students who demonstrate full compliance with their immigration requirements,” a spokesman said.

Bedfordshire said that the university’s licence to recruit had not been suspended but had been “paused”, pending a full audit, and that it was confident it would “demonstrate the robustness of our procedures”.

A spokesman added: “We have audited all current students who have progressed to us from ETS for attendance, location of residence, academic progression, and English Language capability, as well as undertaking other tests for reassurance as to the credibility of these students.

”This audit enabled us to reassure UKVI that our on-going monitoring and targeted review did not provide evidence of any organised attack on the University’s Tier 4 compliance and recruitment.”

A spokesman for Liverpool University, which only opened its London campus last year, said: "The University is pleased to work with the QAA as part of its inquiry. Students who are enrolled at the University’s campus in London are subject to the same strict entry requirements as those  tudying in Liverpool.”

A Quality Assurance Agency spokesman said that the London campuses would be subjected to a paperwork check and if irregularities were uncovered, further investigations would be carried out. An overview report will be published in the autumn.