UK Border Agency suspends University of Wales partner

A University of Wales (UoW) partner college at the centre of allegations of a visa scam has been suspended by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

Rayat London College has been raided by the UKBA and will not be allowed to recruit students from overseas.

BBC Wales revealed members of staff had been involved in offers to help overseas students cheat their way to UoW degrees and UK visas.

The UKBA said the college would remain suspended while it investigated.

Further documents obtained by BBC Wales also reveal that at least one cohort of around 90 overseas students were set to benefit, having sat exams in early August for which the answers were available for sale.

The exams were held at Lampton College, Hounslow, west London, which the UKBA has also suspended.

The exam board, Professional Qualifications Management, was run by Irvin Harris, who was registrar at Rayat London College, also in Hounslow, which offers UoW-validated courses.

In a secret recording he claimed he could help overseas students cheat their way to UoW degrees in order to qualify for sought-after graduate work visas, which are being abolished in April 2012.

An undercover reporter purchased answers to PQM exam papers but did not sit the tests.

BBC Wales understands a lecturer on UoW courses at Rayat London College, Surya Medicherla, was also the chief examiner of PQM.

The questions and answers to all eight modules of the 15 month course were handed out in a revision class Mr Medicherla ran, which the reporter attended.

He told students how to complete the tests and what to say under interrogation from the UK Border Agency.

Word for word

BBC Wales has now obtained documents which show the papers were the same as those sat by around 90 overseas students just a few days later, with the candidates all submitting virtually identical answers.

Some students received a pass for submissions which included phrases such as "answers should include" and "this questions requires students to", indicating they simply copied out the answer sheets word for word.

The diploma entitles students to entry on university MBA courses with exemptions from up to two thirds of the work.

The lecturer encouraged students to use the diploma to enrol on a UoW MBA course at Rayat London College.

Mr Harris has resigned as registrar of the college and as chief executive of PQM, and the college has suspended the lecturer Mr Medicherla and admissions officer, Jalak Mody, who all deny any wrongdoing.

Direct entry

The UoW has refused to answer questions about its links with Rayat London College and PQM, saying it would be inappropriate to comment while UK Border Agency and police investigated.

In a statement issued four days after a BBC Wales' investigation earlier this month it said: "The non-UoW certificates allegedly acquired by students allowed them to claim credit in order to enter degrees at any university in the UK."

BBC Wales has also obtained a letter from the UoW to Rayat London College giving it the right to enrol students who have PQM qualifications on its MBA course with exemptions from most of the work.

The letter, dated 1 September 2011, was from David Orford, who was employed as the university's moderator, responsible for overseeing the partnership with the college.

It is understood Mr Orford, who was associate dean of the Business School at the UoW Newport, was a member of the panel which re-validated courses at Rayat London College for a further five years in July 2011.

He wrote: "I can confirm that the UoW does accept PQM as an acceptable qualification for direct entry onto the latter stages of the MBA, with students normally expected to study two modules plus the dissertation in order to complete the award.

Image caption An extract from an exam answer sheet with word for word responses

"The awarding/validating body must be recognised and seen as have (sic) appropriate quality and standards. PQM fits this criterion."

No response

The letter was dated the same day Mr Orford ended his duties with the UoW and took up a new role as academic director at Rayat London College.

Neither Mr Orford nor the college have responded to BBC Wales' questions about the letter.

In an earlier statement the college said it wished to disassociate itself from any alleged wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, the UK Border Agency says its investigation is ongoing after it raided a number of premises in response to BBC Wales' story.

A spokesman said: "We have carried out visits to Rayat and Lampton Colleges and they are currently unable to bring in new students while our investigations are ongoing."

The vice chancellors of six of the 10 Welsh universities want the UoW brand to be scrapped while three of its five full member institutions plan to award their own degrees as soon as possible.

Education Minister, Leighton Andrews has said the university needed a "decent burial" and has called on its chairman D Hugh Thomas to resign.

The UoW, which is the second largest in the UK with 70,000 students in 130 colleges around the world, said it would adopt a new international strategy and promised to build a "transformed university built upon strong governance".

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