By Ann M. Koenig, AACRAO International Education Services
Investigations into student visa fraud at higher education institutions in the United Kingdom (UK) have led authorities to focus on several universities that operate branch campuses in London, reported Times Higher Education (THE) on July 3, 2014. There is concern that the fraudulent visa activity could be the result of organized activity related to the English testing fraud that was uncovered by the BBC and aired in its exposé in February of this year. A recent BBC report indicates that as a result of initial investigations, three universities and 57 further education colleges have had their authorization to enroll visa students revoked. Further education colleges offer a variety of vocational and postsecondary programs but do not have UK degree-awarding authority.
The Home Office, which is the UK ministerial department responsible for immigration, is conducting investigations, while the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), an independent body entrusted with monitoring and advising on quality control in UK higher education, is looking carefully at the oversight of branch campuses by the home universities, since the home university is the legal sponsor of the student visa and is responsible for procedures and processes involving visa student admissions. Some UK universities have opened branch campuses in London mainly to attract non-EU students, and those operations will come under scrutiny. University partnerships with international student recruiting agents and third-party recruiting companies will be investigated as well, such as INTO University Partnerships, which has had a partnership with the University of East Anglia (UEA) since 2006. QAA is planning to investigate the closure of the UEA’s London program this coming September, despite UEA’s statement that the closure is not related to the student visa fraud problems.
Admissions and registrar’s offices at US institutions are advised to be vigilant in reviewing documentation submitted by graduates and former students of UK programs who did not enter UK institutions from UK secondary schools, especially from non-EU countries that require a student visa to enter UK institutions. Transcript evaluators should require complete, official documentation of all levels of education, and do a year-by-year accounting of every year of education beginning with the first year of secondary (high) school. They should review documentation carefully, and if questions or discrepancies arise, request explanations from the applicants. Applicants for US student visas should expect that US admissions office will exercise due diligence in confirming that requirements for US student visas are met. AACRAO supports US colleagues in this work through AACRAO EDGE, the database of information on educational systems around the world and the services provided by the AACRAO International Education Services office.