North East Wales

Questions call over uni franchises after 'visa fraud'

Glyndwr University, Wrexham Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Glyndwr University said it is investigating with government officials

Questions over university franchise arrangements need to be answered following alleged visa fraud at Glyndwr University, an AM claims.

Aled Roberts said Glyndwr's managerial control over the London campus involved should be looked at.

Glyndwr lost its right to sponsor foreign students after it emerged some may have obtained fraudulent English language certificates.

The university said it was upset by the Home Office decision.

Education Minister Huw Lewis told AMs on Wednesday he has asked the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) to look into the matter, saying it had "potentially serious implications not just for the institution but for the reputation of the higher education sector as a whole".

His comments come after Immigration Minister James Brokenshire told the House of Commons on Tuesday an inquiry had found nearly 50,000 immigrants across the UK may have obtained English language certificates required for a student visas, despite not being able to speak it.

Media captionHuw Lewis: "There are potentially serious implications not just for the institution but for the reputation of the higher education sector as a whole"

The probe followed a BBC Panorama investigation.

The Home Office said concerns centred primarily "but not exclusively" on Glyndwr's London campus, where 2,050 overseas students study.

A criminal investigation has been launched.

Student feedback

On Wednesday, Mr Roberts, who is the Welsh Liberal Democrats spokesman on education, told BBC Radio Wales questions should be asked about the university's relationship with the franchise college in London and the feedback it had on student progress.

Image caption The inquiry revealed answers to multiple-choice language tests were being read out

He said: "There's is an element of them [Glyndwr] being a victim, but I think we do need to understand what exactly they had as far as managerial control was concerned over the college, and more importantly of course, the feedback they had.

"It might have been the case that the company was accrediting these students, but it would have been apparent once they were attending the course that their English wasn't up to standard."

"It does raise questions with regard to the whole franchise arrangements," he added.

"You'll recall the University of Wales had similar difficulties with regard to overseas franchise arrangements and I think the higher education sector has to take a very long and hard look at the way it's been conducting itself in this area."

Resignation call

During a debate in the Senedd, Mr Lewis said he will be writing to the Immigration Minister to express concern about the way the announcement was made "with no prior notice or consultation with the Welsh government".

After the debate, Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas said: "I am very concerned that the minister in the Senedd today could not tell me whether any other Welsh university could be affected by similar visa failures and the lack of clarity on quality assurance."

Glyndwr University said it hoped to get the licence re-instated.

Media captionBrian Heath, vice chair of the the University and College Union at Glyndwr University is worried about the effect on finances

It added it was committed to supporting the continuing education of genuine international students who demonstrate full compliance with their immigration requirements.

A spokesperson for HEFCW said it was talking to the university to assess the implications of the situation before considering if further action was required.

Margaret Phelan, of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), whose Glyndwr members recently voted for strike action in a dispute over job losses, said the allegations added more weight to members' calls for the university leadership to resign.

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