THE GUARDIAN: Thousands of ‘fake’ students at UK’s new higher education colleges

Career College Central Summary:

  • Thousands of students enrolled with a new breed of private higher education colleges are not registered to take recognised exams, the government’s spending watchdog revealed on Tuesday, raising fears that huge numbers of undergraduates have been benefiting from taxpayer subsidy without undertaking meaningful study.
  • The National Audit Office also warned that the dropout rate among students at nine of the “alternative higher education providers” set up following reforms introduced by the former higher education minister David Willetts in 2012 was in excess of 20%. That is five times the dropout rate seen in traditional universities, with which the new colleges were designed to compete.
  • The NAO warns that the private institutions, which can charge students £6,000 a year in fees, have not been properly monitored and pointed out that students attending them were eligible for cheap loans and in some cases grants.
  • Students at “alternative providers” – organisations which the government was hoping would lead ground-breaking market reforms in the higher education sector – received £425m through the Student Loans Company in the academic year 2012-13. Most study higher national diplomas (HNDs) or certificates (HNCs).
  • By comparing data on those claiming student fees with those registered with exam board Pearson/Edexcel, the spending watchdog identified 2,963 students – 20% of the total studying HNDs – who accessed student funding in 2012-13 without ever being registered to sit exams. This figure excluded students who dropped out that year. In total those students could therefore have accessed over £50m.
  • Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Commons public accounts committee, said the report exposed the “misuse” of public money, adding that the business department “went ahead with its reforms to expand the role of private colleges without ensuring there were controls in place”.
  • “This extraordinary rate of expansion, high dropout rates, and warnings from within the sector ought to have set alarm bells ringing,” she added.
  • For the two largest of these new institutions – named by the NAO as London School of Business and Finance, and London School of Science and Technology – the dropout rate rose to about five times the average. Part of the problem stemmed from the rapid recruiting of foreign students, the NAO found. The auditor found that another group of 5,500 undergraduates from the EU have been unable to prove they were either living in the UK or entitled to public funding.
  • A separate internal government inquiry found that 1,000 of these students, most of whom come from Bulgaria and Romania, were definitely fraudulent and had already claimed £5.4m in student loans before being found out. The government has been able to recover just 7% of that money so far, the NAO said.

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