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BAC supports student protection body, UK

A British education lawyer has called for an independent body to be set up to support international students facing unethical treatment by private education providers in the UK. The sector’s biggest accreditation body, the British Accreditation Council (BAC), has backed the idea.

It follows a Huffington Post article published this week, in which international students claim to have been “cheated out of thousands of pounds” by private British colleges during the application process. It gives examples of students being forced to pay tuition fees twice in order to secure a place at their chosen college, or discovering they have been enrolled on the wrong course after arriving in the country.

Salima Mawji, a partner at Match Solicitors, said that while most (although not all) colleges were behaving legally “per se”, many were failing to communicate the terms and conditions of courses properly to students, resulting in loss of fees paid in advance or deposits.

“My experience of [the colleges’] terms and conditions are that they are brief, and sometimes written in a way that leaves it open to interpretation. Also, key information on further fees that might become payable is not set out clearly in any contract that the student signs,” she said in an email to The PIE News.

“I agree that businesses must protect their revenues… However, students should not be put to a disadvantage on arriving in the UK,” she said, adding that the cost and complexity of the British justice system made it hard for them to seek redress.

“Terms and conditions are brief, and sometimes written in a way that leaves it open to interpretation”

Examples given by the Huffington Post include an Indian student who said he paid £1,800 for a course in advance, only to be charged a further £1,800 on his arrival in the UK – a detail not mentioned by his education agent.

In another case a student pulled out of a course application, but lost prepaid fees after his agent requested a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) letter from a college – necessary for reapplication for a visa – without his knowledge. This constituted an administrative error which broke the terms and conditions of his application.

Mawji said agents were often to blame, but that the buck should stop with colleges who collected the fees.

“Many claims did not come to court because legal costs often outweighed the lost fees”

She told The PIE News she received 20-25 enquiries from students a year on similar issues, but that many claims did not go to court because legal costs often outweighed the lost fees – something an independent body offering affordable legal assistance could remedy.

The ideas has received support from MP Jon Shaw and David Kahtan, managing director of charity ForeignStudents.com, as well as the BAC, which blames a lack of regulation in the private FE and HE sectors.

“”We have been working in tandem with bodies including the UK Council for International Student Affairs and the British Council to press relevant government departments to put such a system in place,” Gina Hobson, chief executive of the BAC, told the Huffington Post.

BAC said it was already working to put such a system in place

An example for Britain could be the Council of International Students Australia, which runs a legal advice clinic for students. Mawji added that creating a body could be complex, due to the difficulty of holding agents to account in foreign jurisdictions, but said it was nonetheless essential. “We are bringing the fabulous reputation of a British education into disrepute if we do not stop these practices.”

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