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  1. ITV Report

Exposure: Undercover Colleges

Academy De London’s manager Suman Koti. Photo: ITV Exposure

A Home Office whistleblower has revealed a 'highly trusted' watermark designed to enhance UK colleges' ability to attract foreign students means virtually nothing because the system of awarding the status is being abused due to staff shortages.

An undercover investigation by ITV’s Exposure has discovered that one of the 1,700 institutions which, until recently, the Government allowed to sponsor foreign students is based above a cafe in East London and covers for its own students who are working illegally.

The whistleblower, who is close to the process of checking colleges’ credentials, said the system of granting colleges the prestigious status needs a complete overhaul.

“The reason I felt I needed to speak out is because there are too many colleges who are deemed Highly Trusted who are exploiting genuine students who want to come to the UK to study," he said.

"The Highly Trusted status for me doesn’t really mean a great deal and certainly - wouldn’t for me - mean that the teaching’s going to be worthwhile."

“The scale of the problem ranges from one room above a takeaway which could never be perceived to be an academic institution, to a reputable looking premises. The Home Office are struggling to inspect colleges and educational institutions. There’s not enough staff to go out and do the compliance visits. The system is just too easy to abuse currently. I would say it is broken and it needs a complete overhaul."

The undercover investigation discovered that one college - the Academy De London (ADL) - was based above a cafe and beauty salon in Walthamstow, east London, and covered for students working illegally. The investigation also uncovered:

  • Many classes at the college were cancelled because teachers didn’t turn up.
  • When classes were cancelled, three students filled their time by working illegally.
  • A member of staff at the college admitted covering up for their illegal working by doctoring attendance records

One student who spoke to the programme, Rahman, said he had attended a total of five UK colleges which had either been shut down by the Government or couldn’t obtain the licenses to teach. He said he was attracted by the glossy prospectus of his first college - which made it look like Oxford University but in fact was only two or three rooms.

Now he says he cannot face the shame of returning to his parents in Bangladesh without a qualification, having spent between £30,000 and £35,000 on the college courses.“When I came here I was 22 and now I’m 30. I lost my everything and I can’t go home to my parents. Empty handed? Not possible."

Despite being confronted by a reporter, Academy De London’s manager Suman Koti has still not responded to the issues raised by Exposure’s investigation.

Exposure: Undercover Colleges airs on ITV tonight at 10.35pm