Systematic cheating in visa English test exams in the UK discovered

by Ray Clancy on February 11, 2014

A further crackdown on student visa fraud is expected in the UK after a flagship television programme revealed evidence of systematic fraud and cheating.

The Home Office has already suspended English language tests needed for a visa run by one of the largest language testing firms in the world, ETS, after undercover filming by the BBC Panorama programme showed candidates having the exams faked for them.

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An English language testing company has been asked to suspend testing after an undercover television programme revealed cheating

ETS, which sets the exams but does not appoint the invigilators, said in a statement that it does everything it can to detect and prevent cheating but Home Secretary Theresa May said the BBC’s evidence was ‘very shocking.’

‘What Panorama has uncovered is extremely important, it’s very shocking and I want to do something about it,’ said May.

According to the programme, the real candidates for the written and spoken tests were replaced by fake sitters and in other multiple choice tests the answers were out to them.

Students from non-European Union countries need to sit an English test and show a certain level of English to get a visa and have their visa extended when studying in the UK.

ETS confirmed that the Home Office has asked it to suspend various tests temporarily in the UK related to immigration purposes and that candidates who had appointments to take a test for immigration purposes would be contacted to process a refund.

The government said it had suspended two colleges identified by Panorama and all further English language tests done through ETS in the UK.

Panorama also produced evidence to suggest that overseas applicants for student visas can obtain false bank statements. All applicants need to prove they have a certain level of funds for their stay.

A statement from Universities UK, the voice of universities in the country, said that while universities are not implicated in the fraud revealed by the Panorama programme, the reality is that the reputation of the UK education sector as a whole relies on robustness of immigration rules from all quarters.

‘The government has a job to do to ensure that the student visa route works efficiently across the board, instils public confidence and that all education providers have the same attitude as universities to fulfilling their duties as sponsors,’ the statement explained.

‘Universities take their duties as visa sponsors extremely seriously and invest significant sums in this area. A recent study found that in 2012/2013 alone universities spent £67 million on immigration compliance measures. We have worked increasingly closely with the Home Office to improve compliance with immigration requirements, clarifying and improving guidance and audit systems, and providing training for university staff,’ it pointed out.

‘Abuse of the student route is exceptionally low in universities. Nonetheless, we cannot afford to be complacent. We want to work with the Home Office to eliminate all abuse and maintain our sector’s strong record. This is a priority for Universities UK because universities now have to take a wide range of steps to ensure that students offered places at university are genuine, that they attend courses and progress academically, and leave at the end of their studies,’ it continued.

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