BBC Wales' Week In Week Out – Cash For Qualifications

It's fraud, it's clearly trying to create and exploit a loophole in the immigration systemDamian Green, Immigration Minister
Date: 05.10.2011     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.12
Category: Wales
The UK Border Agency has launched an investigation after BBC Wales exposed a scam in which overseas students are helped to cheat their way to UK university degrees and visas.

Students desperate to get a degree before graduate work permits are scrapped are being sold qualifications leading to a UK University degree. Special two-year work permits for graduates are being phased out in April and foreign students are being tempted by offers to fraudulently obtain degrees before the deadline.

The BBC went undercover to expose a market in postgraduate diplomas, used to enrol on university MBA courses with exemptions from up to two thirds of the work. The scam is designed to transform bogus students into legitimate graduates in order to apply for post study work visas.

Immigration minister, Damian Green, said the UK Border Agency were investigating: "It's fraud, it's clearly trying to create and exploit a loophole in the immigration system," he says in the programme which is broadcast today (Wednesday 5 October) on BBC One Wales. "Obviously we're aware of the investigations that you've been undergoing. If people are committing scams then they should be worried, we're after them."

The Week In Week Out investigation has resulted in the suspension of three members of staff at Rayat London College, which runs University of Wales MBA courses. Undercover footage suggests students are being offered the chance to enrol on express MBA courses using fraudulent diplomas to ensure exemptions from much of the work.

Week In Week Out has evidence of plans to offer students advanced sight of an official University of Wales exam paper. Covert filming shows one of the college's lecturers, Surya Medicherla, giving students tips on how to cheat in exams and how to deceive the UK Border Agency. He warned the students not to be complacent about the UKBA.

"In some corners of your heart you are so happy because you are not studying anything but you are getting your PGD (postgraduate diploma)," he said.

"You are not really bothered about what you are going to write but these things will in future prove very costly so at least remember the subjects. Just please be careful, just getting the PSW (post study work visa) does not mean that we have fooled the UKBA – no they are quite intelligent – they are more intelligent than what we are."

Surya Merdichela told BBC Wales it was never his intention to show students how to cheat.

The Registrar of Rayat London College, Irvin Harris, is also co-director of the exam qualifications awarding company Professional Qualifications Management Limited (PQM).

Week In Week Out has evidence that his scam would include an offer to hold examinations in which students can cheat in order to complete a 15 month qualification in under a week. Mr Harris denies that he ever encouraged anyone to cheat and is not responsible for the conduct of the lecturer, Surya Medicherla. He denies any allegations of wrongdoing.

A spokesperson for Rayat London College said the lecturer, registrar and admissions officer had all been suspended. It said it wished to disassociate itself from any alleged wrongdoing and had referred the matter to the police. PQM Limited said it was a bona fide organisation with strict policies for examination and marking and denied any involvement in the matters under investigation.

Immigration lawyer, Harjap Bhangal, said those caught attempting to deceive the UK Border Agency were likely to face prosecution: "There's currently students serving prison sentences for trying to defraud the UKBA. The consequences are jail and the risk of exposure. On top of that you may be deported and your passport taken – you might never see your passport again. If proceedings are taken in your home country you might not be allowed to leave and your dream of coming to the UK will be gone as you are restricted to living in your village."

The episode is likely to cause further embarrassment for the University of Wales, after an earlier BBC investigation revealed a college offering its courses in Malaysia was run by a pop star with two bogus degrees.

On Monday, the University of Wales announced that it would stop validating degrees from other institutions. University Vice Chancellor, Medwin Hughes, said that the decision was in response to changes in higher education in Wales.

The university is the second-largest degree awarding body in the UK with 70,000 students at 130 partner colleges around the world. Following a highly critical report by the higher education watchdog, the QAA, it said each of its partnerships would be reviewed.

However, it last inspected Rayat London College in July, shortly before the BBC investigation began, and validated its courses for a further five years. The University of Wales says it has referred the allegations being made in the programme to South Wales Police, the Metropolitan Police and the UKBA. It said it would be inappropriate for it to comment further.

Professor Sir Deian Hopkin, former Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University, said the developments were worrying: "If someone comes along and says a British degree can be bought and sold... that's not good news."

Around 250,000 overseas students were studying in the UK last year in a business said to be worth more than £3bn to the UK economy.

Week In Week Out – Cash For Qualifications

Wednesday 5 October, BBC One Wales, 8.30pm