Wales

Cardiff 'fraud' college: Failings found by watchdog

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Media caption'Failings' of fraud probe college

A private college at the centre of a fraud probe has a number of failings in the way it is run, a watchdog has said.

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) released its report on Cardiff's West London Vocational Training College on Thursday.

It highlighted failings in student admission, assessment and attendance at the college on Greyfriar's Road.

The college's owners have been asked to comment.

The college was the focus of a BBC Wales Week In Week Out investigation in December 2015, in which an undercover reporter posing as a student was told by a recruiting agent they could cheat in their coursework and lie about qualifications when applying to the college and seeking funding.

The inquiry by the QAA, which reviews higher education college courses and providers for public funding designation, also raised concerns about the recruitment and management of staff at the college.

Will Naylor, director of quality assurance for QAA, said: "This is a college which has taken public money but failed to provide the standards and quality of higher education we expect from a UK provider."

The college offered business courses to HND, HNC and diploma level.

All payments to it and its students have been suspended since November, pending an investigation by South Wales Police into alleged funding fraud.

More than £500,000 in tuition fees, loans and grants from the Welsh Government and the Student Loans Company had been awarded prior to that.

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A Welsh Government spokesman said the report was welcome and "we will now fully consider its conclusions and recommendations".

Darren Millar, Conservative AM for Clwyd West and former chairman of the public accounts committee, said: "I think we need to recoup every penny that has gone to this college which shouldn't have gone to the college."

The QAA's inquiry team found "significant" numbers of students were not properly qualified to study at HND level and there was a lack of clarity in the college's paperwork regarding academic qualifications.

The report stated there was a risk of serious error in the decision-making process leading to the admission of students without the required qualifications.

Student attendance was not properly monitored and student records were not consistently accurate or reliable.

"Low levels" of student attendance were accepted because there was no systematic or consistent process for monitoring this.

However, investigators found there had been improvements in this area.

Investigators found no further evidence, beyond the example in the BBC programme, of the acceptance of faked qualifications or that students were advised by a recruitment agent on how to do this.

Nor did they find further evidence students had paid for course assignments to be written by others on their behalf - as suggested to the programme's undercover reporter.

But they concluded that weaknesses in the college's processes made it vulnerable to this and other types of assessment misconduct.

Image caption Darren Millar said he wanted to see money awarded to the college recouped

They found the recruiter featured in the BBC programme "had not acted competently or professionally" and the college had not monitored his activities adequately.

The investigation supported the programme's claim that the college's principal at the time "misrepresented" his qualifications and academic experience when applying to work there.

The principal, who was initially recruited as a tutor through an advertisement on the Gumtree classified ads website, has since left the college.

The QAA found "procedures for the appointment of staff… proved unfit for the purpose of securing appropriately qualified and experienced staff."

A total of 19 recommendations were made for the Cardiff college, which must respond with an action plan within four weeks.

Pearson, the exam board for HND courses, said: "Following our investigation we have removed centre approval for West London Vocational Training College, including the Cardiff site. Sanctions have also been imposed on two individuals, debarring them from involvement in the delivery of Pearson qualifications and placing a lifetime ban on further applications for centre approval."

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