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UK sector reacts to licence suspensions

The UK Home Office’s decision to suspend the licences of 57 private colleges and circumvent international recruitment at three universities has sent shockwaves through the industry. Speaking at an event for embassy officials this week, Universities Minister, David Willetts, underlined that no current international students are impacted and he said “the fact that we are serious about [compliance] should protect our reputation”.

Embassy officials in London at an education event: subscriptions rose after Tuesday's announcement of suspensions

"It is true to say that reputable centres may find themselves caught up in this through no fault of their own"

But Dominic Scott, Chief Executive of UKCISA, warned that his association was fearful of the financial longevity of impacted colleges if their licences are indeed revoked.

“We are concerned some colleges will close,” said Scott, underlining that there was no assurance fund that covered the private college sector; something that must be addressed again (this was a recommendation of the HE Commission).

“We are concerned some colleges will close and leave students on the street”

The government has issued detailed guidance for all students and lawyers have confirmed that many colleges will be contesting the suspensions: colleges have 20 working days to contest the suspension and the Home Office then has 20 days to confirm reinstatement or revocation of licence.

Willetts asserted that this week's action will reinforce the UK's reputation

Willetts asserted that this week’s action will reinforce the UK’s reputation

Pat Saini of Penningtons Law warned that more institutions could be hit by the government’s investigation.

She told The PIE News, “There are also some institutions that will have received letters saying “we’re carrying out investigations, we can’t give you further confirmation, we will do at a later stage, and their 20 working days won’t kick in until they get the further information.”

The investigation started over exam fraud but, as Minister James Brokenshire indicated in his statement, escalated into “wider concerns about conduct” and London sub-campuses of universities have also been questioned, which quality auditor QAA has reacted to.

The latest government guidance recommends students intending to study at an affected college “are strongly advised not to attempt to travel to the UK until the suspension has been resolved”.

Regarding a lack of notice given to institutions, Saini said, “I’m aware that it’s probably right that some institutions were caught by surprise when they received the suspension letter.”

Speaking at the same embassy event this week, John Thompson, Director of Migration Policy, explained that swift action was required to circumvent any attempt by some implicated colleges to issue acceptance letters for college places ahead of a suspension.

Brink Gardner, Managing Director of Blake Hall College, one of the colleges to see its licence on hold, is a Study UK member (the association has released a statement). He strongly refutes any wrongdoing. He told The PIE News the process of submitting information to the investigation for a relatively small number of students was burdensome and the college can refute all concerns raised.

“Looking at what we had to do in order to make our submissions [to the investigation], and that was a relatively small number of students, if every other institution has to do that it’s going to take quite a while, and even longer for them to go through it all,” said Gardner.

“Our agents couldn’t believe it when they heard we were suspended,” he said. “Our progression is very serious at Blake Hall and we have primarily MBA, postgrad and undergrad students on campus so we have a very small number of non-degree students.”

At LSBF, which was singled out by Brokenshire for having registered students recorded as working, the company said, “LSBF has pointed out to the Home Office that the UKVI assertion appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of the rights of LSBF students to work during term-time.”

The company has asked the minister to clarify his statement and added that other students had a right to work such as “students directly sponsored by UK universities but studying with LSBF under franchise or similar arrangements”.

It is not just FE colleges that have been implicated. Stand-alone ELT centre Studio Cambridge is one of the few language schools to have its licence suspended.

Managing Director of Studio Cambridge, Malcolm Mottram, told The PIE News: “It is such a shock to us, we’ve been going for 61 years and we were a highly trusted sponsor, we’re just an EFL school, we have no connection with universities, we’re not involved in immigration, but we were a TOEIC centre.”

“I can categorically state that we have not ever, and would not ever, falsify an examination or qualification”

“I can quite categorically state that we have not ever, and would not ever, falsify an examination or qualification, and, furthermore, our students are not interested in immigration. They are here to learn English and then go home,” he said.

Mottram explained that he had no prior warning of the suspension until his local MP Julian Huppert called him from Westminster on June 24th to say he was “horrified” by what he had just heard in parliament and was astonished to hear Studio Cambridge was implicated.

English UK released an official statement stating they are “monitoring this situation closely.”

CEO of EUK, Eddie Byers told The PIE News, “It is true to say that reputable centres may find themselves caught up in this through no fault of their own, and we are in touch with the members involved.”

“It’s also important to say that we will not prejudge the ongoing investigations, and we support the efforts being made to address this problem. We all want to protect and strengthen the UK’s world leading reputation in English Language Teaching,” he said.

Other representatives of the HE and FE community expressed dismay this week at the timing of the announcement, as the enrolment season for the next academic season hots up.

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