BBC exposé reveals fraud in UK English testing, student visa process

February 24, 2014
  • AACRAO Connect
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation

An undercover investigation by the BBC has exposed fraudulent practices in English language testing and the issuing of student financial documentation in the United Kingdom (UK). Proof of English proficiency and adequate financial resources are required to obtain a student visa in the UK, just as in the United States. For the last year, the BBC’s investigative team has been following a network suspected of helping unqualified persons obtain or extend student visas by fraudulent means. BBC Panorama, a current affairs program on British television, aired an exposé of its findings on Monday evening, February 10, 2014.

Using authentic, legal international students from non-EU countries posing as student visa seekers who have limited English proficiency, the BBC checked out an agency in London called Studentway Education that promised a “guaranteed pass” in the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), an English test given by New Jersey-based ETS  throughout the world. Upon payment of a fee three times that of the standard test fee, the organization sent the applicants to a government-approved test site, Eden College International, to take the TOEIC test.

Undercover video shot by the BBC shows a computer-based test session in which the registered test-takers sit down at computer terminals and are logged in by an invigilator (proctor). But before the test begins, a group of people enter the room and replace the registered test-takers at their computers. The registered applicants stand by and watch as the bogus test-takers complete the examinations for them. The real test-takers do have to have their photographs taken, however, a requirement that is supposed to help ensure examination security.

Fraudulent practice was also found in a written multiple choice examination. The undercover video shows a room full of test-takers with fill-in-the-circle answer sheets. A man at the front of the room begins to call out numbers and letters – the test answers. What is supposed to be a two-hour test of English comprehension and proficiency takes seven minutes. And the undercover applicant, who is likely surrounded by examinees who may not be qualified at all for British student visas, achieves a brilliant result.

The TOEIC is designed as a measure of English proficiency for the workplace. It examines the taker’s ability to use English in employment settings, and is used by companies around the world for hiring, promotion and other work-related purposes. The ETS English proficiency examination that is generally required in the academic sector in the United States is the TOEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language. Many education providers in the US do not accept the TOEIC in fulfillment of English proficiency requirements.

Studentway Education also provided a BBC undercover applicant with a fraudulent bank statement needed for a student visa application. One undercover investigator was told that Studentway would use its contacts in India to find financial documentation of someone there with the same name, and Studentway delivered.

In response to a request by the UK Home Office, which oversees the UK’s immigration service, the UK Border Agency, ETS has suspended TOEIC and TOEFL testing temporarily.

The UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), will review its evaluations of the institutions and agencies involved. The Home Office called on the education sector for assistance in fighting examination fraud related to the immigration sector.

US institutions are advised to contact ETS with any questions regarding its testing products or test results. While the BBC’s exposé focuses on student visa fraud in the UK, US colleagues must also practice due diligence to ensure that student visa applications are based on authentic documentation. AACRAO offers a suite of publications on academic credential fraud and best practices in fighting it, and AACRAO national and regional/state meetings, workshops, and Webinars often include sessions or information related to best practices in this area.