Please note that since this article has been published immigration guidance has changed. Please see our post UK NARIC’s Visas and Nationality Service launches on 6 April which contains more up-to-date information.
Universities and colleges across the country need to comply with strict guidelines to bring students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to study in the UK. There have been high profile suspensions of universities and colleges which have failed to comply with these guidelines resulting in significant damage to the reputation of the institution as well as having a meaningful effect on revenues.
There are no hard and fast rules on how education providers can ensure they can keep their Highly Trusted Sponsor (HTS) status, but it is apparent that demonstrating good practice in the recruitment of international students is an important step in the right direction.
Working with institutions and the Home Office UK NARIC has been able to identify the following areas as being important steps in being able to help institutions keep or achieve HTS and thereby achieve compliance.
Compliance is the Key
In order to bring students to the UK from outside the EEA universities and colleges need to have HTS status. HTS is something that is “given” to education providers by the Home Office. Having, and keeping, HTS is the main aim of all education institutions that engage in the recruitment of international students.
The best way to gain and maintain HTS is to be compliant with the Home Office’s sponsor requirements.
There are numerous criteria to which institutions have to comply and we feel that it is useful to highlight four areas:
- Adopting best practice
- Ability to follow a course
- Counter fraud
- English Language Proficiency
Adopting best practice
Education providers in the UK need to clearly demonstrate that they are using tried and tested processes to identify and evaluate potential students from outside the EEA. The Home Office are not going to tell higher education institutions or colleges how they should market themselves or whether they are over-estimating the abilities of an individual; but they do want to see that there are policies and procedures and that the institution is following good practice.
Policies and Procedures
When it comes to evaluating applicants from outside the EEA institutions need to show that they are being consistent. Universities and colleges need to be able to demonstrate that they have a system in place. Using UK NARIC’s data is one way of doing this. All UK NARIC’s members are entitled to a “Membership Certificate”. This does not mean that UK NARIC accredits the institution (if you become aware of any institution claiming to be accredited by UK NARIC please let us know!), it simply confirms that the institutions is a member of UK NARIC and therefore has access to our data and services. The Membership Certificate clearly shows that the institution is using “an independent authority” to help them evaluate the qualifications of international applicants. If you are a member of UK NARIC and you would like to order a Membership Certificate please contact your Account Manager.
There are a number of other criteria that can be used to demonstrate good practice and we could fit many blog articles with them. However, it is worth highlighting a couple more:
Staff development: Make sure that relevant staff are kept up-to-date with the latest developments in education internationally. This can be done through Newsletters; there are a number of relevant newsletters available (QAA, UUK’s International Unit, AUA, UK NARIC). Additionally, staff could attend training courses and conferences. UK NARIC runs a number of professional development courses that have been designed for this purpose; additionally UCAS, UKCISA and many other organisations run courses and conferences throughout the year. Finally, it is important to keep up-to-date with immigration policy; UK NARIC is now running events that are specifically design to help higher education professionals to do this.
Admissions Policy: An Admissions Policy should set out the way in which an institution evaluates applicants. It should be readily available and it should provide information on the sources of information staff should use to make decisions. Which sources of information does your institution use: internal databases? UK NARIC? Any other sources? These should all be listed. Additionally, if your institution has particular policies on an institution, country or region this should be detailed in the Policy. The Policy should cover how you deal with Agents and what relationship you have with Agents.
Ability to follow a course
Under Tier 4 institutions should only issue a CAS once they are satisfied that a student both intends and is able to follow the course of study concerned.
The key point here is being able to assess an individual’s ability.
This can be done through the applicant’s previous qualifications, their performance in an admissions test or through interview. If an institution is using previous qualifications to assess an applicant’s suitability, then they need to “confirm any qualifications the student already has which make them suitable for the course” on the CAS, i.e. use UK NARIC’s data.
Assessing a student’s suitability is very important. It is the way in which institutions can be sure they have a committed student; but how can institutions be sure that the qualifications are genuine?
We have covered education fraud in another article in this blog, and it is important that higher and further education institutions develop systems and processes to combat education fraud (in fact it should be covered in the Admissions Policy!).
The Home Office’s view on fraud is:
“We would encourage Sponsors to take all reasonable steps to verify the authenticity of a document; it is in the Sponsor’s interests to do so
Rooting out the non bona fide applications before issuing a CAS would save them from paying a CAS fee for a student who won’t enter the UK.
If an institution repeatedly sponsors applicants with non bona fide documents it may affect their Sponsor rating and could ultimately lead to their removal from the register.”
Therefore, it is vitally important that institutions wishing to gain or maintain HTS have a way of finding out whether a qualification is bogus. Members of UK NARIC are able to use the Counter Fraud Service which will provide members with the knowledge needed to be able to make better judgments about whether a qualification is legitimate. There is also the Degrees of Deception publication and a training course.
English Language Proficiency
There have been examples of when students have used bogus English language qualifications to enter the UK. The Home Office has established criteria for those wishing to study in the UK. There are a number of different ways in which applicants can show that they meet the different levels that have been specified, please refer to the Tier 4 guidance policy.
Tim Buttress, June 2013
Please check the Home Office website to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information.
Education fraud is once again a hot topic:
- In Saudi Arabia the Arab News reported that the Saudi Council of Engineers (SCE) have so far discovered 1,050 engineers who were practicing despite not holding genuine qualifications. These engineers were nationals of 20 different countries.
- In India, police recently arrested two immigration agents following a tip off that they were producing fraudulent degrees and travel documents. The leaders of the gang have supposedly absconded.
- A political scandal has erupted in Malaysia after five election candidates were accused of having purchased their university qualifications. Some of the candidates claimed to have been awarded degrees by institutions which have been exposed as diploma mills.
- In Pakistan 54 MPs were found to have fraudulent qualifications; some were classified as fake while others were considered invalid as, although the MPs had graduated from the programme listed, they did not have the intermediate certificates required to enter the course.
In order to equip university admissions officers and employers with essential knowledge on fraud in education, UK NARIC offers the training session Degrees of Deception: Combating Education Fraud. This practical course covers the varying types of education fraud and the features to look out for on genuine and fraudulent documents. Session are held throughout the year, to book a place on this popular and informative course, please complete the training booking form or contact your Account Manager.
The production of fraudulent documents, or fake degrees and diplomas, has been going on since antiquity, but it is only in the last ten to fifteen years that educational fraud or ‘fake qualifications’ have really become a worldwide problem. There are two principal reasons for this: firstly, academic qualifications have gained increasing commercial value.
Educational achievement and the accompanying evidence are now used to attempt to ensure safe passage through immigration, promotion and access to employment, as well as a legitimate bargaining tool for better pay or greater professional recognition. The cases of Gene Morrison and Stein Bagger demonstrates the lengths individual will go to in order to achieve such recognition. It is, therefore, not surprising that educational fraud or fake qualifications have become a marketable commodity in their own right, irrespective of whether they have been earned or not.
Secondly, modern technology and the rise of the internet have undoubtedly contributed to the wide-spread trend of educational fraud and fake degrees.
There are a number of ways in which universities, college and employers can weed out these fake qualifications. The first and most important thing to check is whether the institution is legitimate and not a diploma mill. The easiest way to do this to check whether the education provider is listed on UK NARIC’s online database.
There are also a number of “red flags” to look out for when considering education documents:
Lack of official stamps / official seals
Degree certificates come with official seals or stamps. These may be embossed, stamped or raised seals.
What is the paper quality of the certificate? Are there any security features?
A variety of fonts used
The majority of degree certificates do not use more than three or four font styles.
Degree certificates are generally aligned down the centre of the page. ‘Cut and paste’ techniques on documents often make mistakes in the alignment.
If there is hand-writing on a certificate there should generally be no more than one style of handwriting. Also, there should be no alternations or corrections on the document.
Scanned signatures have often been taken from websites or scanned from other documents. The signatures will be pixelated. On genuine documents this will not be the case.
Informal or inaccurate language
The language used on degree transcripts is often very formal. Read the text carefully and ensure that it makes sense and that the correct grammar has been used.
Can the institution in question award that given qualification? Is the institution accredited?
These “red flags” are only a starting point. It takes a lot of experience and research to be able to identify bogus or fake degree; the above are just some of the elements used to spot fake qualifications.
“We have seen a significant increase in the number members asking us to check whether certificates are genuine,” commented Ian Bassett, Commercial Director, UK NARIC / ECCTIS Ltd, “additionally our training courses and the Degree of Deception publication also help ensure that there are ways of combating this threat.”
Tim Buttress, August 2012
An updated article on education fraud has been published https://uknaric.org/2015/06/19/fraud-a-growing-problem-in-education-and-how-to-guard-against-it/.