Investigating the bogus education scam
By Nigel Morris, Investigations Producer
It took three months for BBC London to uncover the elaborate scam behind one of the country's most notorious bogus universities...
A BBC London investigation has exposed an international education scam that targets foreign students who come to study in the capital.
The bogus Irish International University (IIU), which offers sub-standard and worthless degrees has been allowed to flourish in the UK - virtually unchecked by Government - for the last seven years.
Although the organisation is unaccredited, hundreds of students have been given educational visas to enter Britain and take its exams at private colleges in London.
The IIU, which has 5,000 students worldwide and thousands of graduates, maintains the illusion of a valid education through its elaborate but highly misleading website.
This illusion is enhanced by the university’s continued use of Oxbridge facilities to stage its award ceremonies. After each event photographs appear on the IIU website showing happy students receiving awards at the UK’s best seats of learning.
Our investigation took us from London to Dublin, Oxford and finally Monte Carlo in search of those behind the IIU.
A BBC journalist and an actor posing as fake academic were invited to the IIU’s award ceremony which, surprisingly, was held at the Divinity School, next to the Bodelian Library, in the very heart of Oxford University.
The ceremony was due to go ahead at Cambridge but after BBC London alerted the university authorities the event was cancelled but that did not stop the IIU switching venues to Oxford at the last minute.
In Oxford our journalist and actor secretly filmed the award ceremony and recorded meetings with university boss and Executive President Professor Hardeep Singh Sandhu, a Malaysian businessman and faculty member Dr Edwin Varo.
Dr Varo, told us that the IIU was not bogus and was registered in Ireland and that it had applied to the Government and had been given approval to use the word university.
In Dublin, Sean O'Foghlu, Chief Executive, National Qualifications Authority of Ireland told us: “To use the word university in a title it needs approval from our department of education and science… no such approval has been given by our department.”
The university website clearly stated that the university had a campus in Dublin. We visited the address given by the IIU on their website - there was no campus just a mailbox
The website also claimed that the IIU’s educational programmes were accredited and quality controlled by the impressive sounding QAC-UK Ltd - the Quality Assurance Commission, based in North London.
During secretly filmed meetings Professor Dr Sandhu told our undercover team that the QAC was an “independent body” that maintained the quality of the education in the UK and elsewhere.
Faculty member, Dr Varo explained that the QAC: “focus more on your curriculum – on your teaching; focus on your evaluation – they focus on your faculty – who are your faculty – what amount of real teaching takes place.”
The QAC website listed an impressive roll call of staff including the QAC Commissioner General and an Acting Commissioner General.
Our reporter visited the QAC and instead of finding a commissioner general we found four telephonists fielding calls for countless companies at yet another virtual office.
A further check at Companies House revealed that far from the being “independent” the QAC is in fact owned by university boss Professor Dr Sandhu.
Bona fide academic, Professor Geoffrey Alderman gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the subject of bogus institutions.
He told us: "Some of these colleges will say sure we’re accredited, but when you say by whom they name an accrediting institution which in fact they themselves own."
University boss Professor Dr Hardeep Singh Sandhu, who sits on the Governing Council is a Doctor of Letters, a doctorate awarded by another unaccredited university based in the Caribbean.
His professorship is “honorary” awarded by a European association set-up for giving out professorships.
On the website he also called himself ‘Sir H Sandhu’ but his knighthood was not bestowed on him by The Queen it came via Portugal although it is actually registered in Austria.
One person missing from the Oxford award ceremony was the university’s Honorary Chancellor, His Excellency Baron Knowth - real name Professor Jeffrey Wooller, a successful chartered accountant from London.
Mr Wooller, a member of the Institiute of Chartered Accountants, owns a £1.2m townhouse in Kensington but spends most of his time living as a tax exile in Monte Carlo.
'Figment of someone's imagination'
Our actor, again posing as a fake academic, arranged to meet Mr Wooller, at a hotel in Monaco. We secretly filmed this meeting.
He told our fake academic that the IIU was not “recognised anywhere”.
He admitted to our actor that the website was an illusion: “When you look at the website, it's a figment of someone's imagination. Someone's dreamt up what a university should look like, and that's what's on the website….”
Mr Wooller told us that students paid a lot of money to attend the award ceremonies and that “If you can mention Oxford, Cambridge then the whole world thinks that it must be a good university.”
He then said of the university’s operation: “The whole thing’s dodgy,” he even said that the IIU’s governing council, of which he and Mr Sandhu are both members, did not exist.
A BBC London reporter then confronted Professor Wooller:
Reporter: You said the whole thing is dodgy.
Mr Wooller: It is dodgy!
Reporter: Oh so you admit it' dodgy?
Mr Wooller: Of course it’s dodgy
He also told our reporter that he had been given his professorship by the IIU and that he had bought his ‘Baron’ title.
Mr Wooller refused to quit as honorary chancellor stating that most IIU students were happy and that the university was good value for money.
Professor John Arnold, of Lougborough University, has seen coursework from an IIU graduate.
He said: “Students are paying for this, what I would regard as worthless and bogus qualifications.I would say buyer beware from the point of view of students.You know I really think that they’ll probably be getting qualifications which are unlikely to be taken seriously at least in Western Europe.”
Following BBC London’s investigation the IIU will now no longer be allowed to use Oxbridge facilities to stage their award ceremonies.
Oxford University issued a statement stating that they would not be renting its facilities to the Irish International University in the future.
The IIU website survives but since our investigation it has undergone a radical overhaul.
The reference to a Dublin campus has been removed while the QAC is “no longer involved with the Irish International University” and its logo no longer appears on the website.
Mr Sandhu told BBC London that the University will not renew its affiliations with any private colleges in London.
The British Government is promising that by 2009 all colleges wishing to bring overseas applicants into the country will need to be accredited.
Reporter - Angela Saini; Producer - Nigel Morris; Assistant Producer - Sharif Sakr; Camera - Rob Taylor/ David Perella/ Ian Paice
"Interesting item on the Irish International University. I had a look at their website and found something rather shocking. You can enter a student number (any four figure number) and see a students details including passport numbers - not exactly secure!" - Ian Jordan
"There are many good colleges who are trying to do a good job not helped by the Home Office Immigration Department. There are a number of other fake degrees. I know, I am English and I work in this business but I am not a fraud." - Helen
"I saw your report on TV on bogus education with worthless degrees offered to foreign students. I am one of the victim of such a scam having been told that the degree will give you a good job back home but has no value in UK, obviously after I had passed. This was offered by a reputable university through a reputable institution and still going on relentlessly. I took this course at a great expense. I have complained to higher authorities about it with no response. I am too scared to even mention the institution as it may have an impact on my job." - Anonymous
"I watched the news yesterday about the false institution ripping students of their money and at the end of the day issue worthless certificates. I am a victim of one of these false institutions/ colleges in London. I came over to London with hope to fulfil my career dreams. But when I started school it turned out to be a different story. From what I saw in the schools administration, I discovered their focus was not our Education but our money. It was too late; the fees had already been paid. What story do I want to tell my parents? These people have destroyed many hopes. I came all the way from Africa to a better land to maximize my potentials and to a land of opportunities. Where is my hope today?" - David
"I feel so much bitterness after watching your clip on bogus universities. I too am a victim of one such and they really muddled up my life." - Lawrie
last updated: 22/05/2008 at 16:24