More than 50,000 English language tests taken by overseas students to extend their British visas have been declared invalid or questionable as a result of an official investigation into cheating on a huge scale.
The Home Office has suspended the overseas student sponsorship licences of one university – Glyndwr, near Wrexham – and 57 private further education colleges as a result of the investigation. Two further universities – West London and Bedfordshire – are no longer allowed to sponsor new students and, pending further investigations may also have their licences suspended.
Ministers have also ordered a fresh inquiry into wider migrant student abuses at all the London sub-campuses of universities based in other parts of Britain in the biggest investigation since the Home Office suspended the licence of the London Metropolitan University.
A criminal investigation is also currently under way into ETS Global Ltd, the European subsidiary of a US company, which is one of the biggest providers of English language tests in Britain. The investigation followed allegations by the BBC1 programme Panorama earlier this year of systematic cheating at a number of the ETS test centres.
The American firm, ETS, had its five-year contract to handle the national curriculum tests for schools in England and Wales terminated in 2008 after major delays in processing test results.
The National Crime Agency has been called in to assist the investigation, with some arrests already having been made. Immigration enforcement has also started to identify any overseas students who are in the country illegally as a result of a falsified test result. No evidence of systematic cheating has been found in the tests administered by the four other main providers of English language tests in Britain.
James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, said that at Glyndwr University more than 350 students had been identified with invalid or questionable test results. At West London, more than 290 had invalid or questionable results. Other universities with London sub-campuses have voluntarily stopped overseas recruitment while the investigation is under way.
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