Some international students may have been wrongly accused of cheating in English language tests and, in some cases, unfairly removed from the UK, according to a report.
The National Audit Office acknowledged that “clearly widespread cheating did take place” but also looked at the Home Office’s response to “extensive fraud” in the student system prior to 2014.
Report author Tom McDonald said: “What we didn’t see in the course of the last four years of evidence was a clear effort by the Home Office to try and identify where innocent people might have been caught up in this and the results, and again it’s very hard to quantify, but it’s likely that in seeking to bring a very tough response on those people who had cheated there may have been some action by the Home Office which was probably neither fair nor proportionate for the innocent people who were caught up in it”.
Evidence showed that in some cases stand-in English speakers were taking tests instead of real candidates.
The report highlighted that during an investigation, new voice recognition technology was used to uncover who had cheated and it was concluded that 97% of tests were “suspicious”, but the Home Office did not get expert opinion on the quality of the evidence.
Geeta Rani, 35, was one of 34,000 students accused of cheating. She had her visa cancelled and couldn’t complete her studies.
“I came here with good faith of getting a good degree”, she said. “Why do I need to cheat? I’m well qualified from my home country, I finish my degree here, I finish my diploma here, I didn’t need to cheat”.
Ms Rani, who is a qualified nurse in India, came to the UK to do an accountancy course.
She has spent around £40,000 on tuition fees and is surviving on charity handouts as she fights to clear her name.
She hopes that she’ll be allowed to re-take the exam, finish her course, and return to India with her reputation restored.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The report is clear on the scale and organised nature of the abuse, which is demonstrated by the fact that 25 people who facilitated this fraud have received criminal convictions.”
They added that Home Secretary Sajid Javid will make a statement to Parliament once he has fully considered the report.
Nazek Ramadan from Migrant Voice, who have been campaigning for some of those affected, said: “They were put in really difficult situation – their visas revoked overnight, a large number of them were also detained and treated like criminals, they were on the street, they made them homeless or destitute.
“Many we work with are suffering from severe mental health, some are on medication, to stop them killing themselves.
“They didn’t just lose their money or education but they lost the best years of their lives”.