The chairwoman of Parliament’s spending watchdog wants a police probe after the BBC’s Panorama uncovered evidence of fraud in the student loan system.
One education agent was secretly filmed offering to get bogus students admitted into a government-approved private college for a ВЈ200 fee.
Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “There is criminal fraud going on from what you’ve shown me. It needs to be referred to the police.”
‘Horrible people exploiting education system’
BBC Panorama spent 10 months investigating dishonest education agents and bogus students who are committing frauds that target private colleges – also known as alternative providers – which offer courses approved for student loans.
Agents were secretly filmed supplying fake documents, including a qualification certificate to a BBC undercover researcher posing as a bogus student, who wanted to cheat their way on to courses and apply for student loans.
“These are horrible people who are exploiting our education system,” said NUS President Shakira Martin. “The student finance system is ultimately broken.”
About ВЈ400m-a-year is received by 112 private colleges through the student loan system. The government is keen to expand the sector as part of reforms designed to make degree and diploma courses more accessible to people who might otherwise find it difficult to enter higher education.
Students on government-approved courses at private colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are entitled to – depending on circumstances – ВЈ11,000 in maintenance loans to cover living expenses and up to ВЈ6,000 in tuition fee loans, paid direct to colleges.
Acting on a tip-off, Panorama approached Imran Saeed Sheikh, an agent and fraudster who owns a chain of barber shops in east London.
Mr Sheikh said that for a ВЈ200 fee he could get Panorama’s undercover students on to a two-year Higher National Diploma (HND) business course, at Grafton College in central London, so they could get student loans.
He added that once a bogus student was admitted he could provide everything they would need to stay on their course, in return for an annual cut of their loan money. “When your first instalment comes we take ВЈ1,500,” he said. “With this we take care of your attendance for the whole year, get your eight assignments done.”
He added: “We have a relationship with the college. The money you give us with that, we’ll make the system work inside.”
One of the BBC’s undercover students said they had left school at 16 and so lacked the necessary qualifications to meet entry criteria for the course. For ВЈ600, Imran and his assistant Raza Abbas Sheikh supplied them with a backdated certificate for a course they had not studied, which was equivalent to A-Levels.
The certificate apparently came from an awarding body based in the same building as Grafton College. Imran Sheikh claimed he got it from Asif Khawaja, Grafton’s head of operations.
On the strength of the certificate, http://badcreditloanshelp.net/payday-loans-ok/ Panorama’s undercover student was accepted on to the course, for which Grafton College charges ВЈ6,000 a year. Within days they received the first ВЈ3,600 instalment of their student loan money.
Imran Sheikh, who was at the college on the undercover student’s induction day, told them they would barely need to attend their course.
“You just sit like a dummy and keep nodding along. When the college gives you assignments, you don’t have to do them. These go directly to our agent in Pakistan. He gets people to do them.”
Both the awarding body and Grafton College said they are unaware of any fraudulent activities. Asif Khawaja said he absolutely denies any involvement.