The Indian Workers Association (GB) issued the following statement:

We, the Indian Workers’ Association (GB), would like to bring your attention to some issues that overseas students are currently facing in the UK.

Recruitment agents in India

There are currently a great number of university recruitment companies operating as agents from many states in India, including Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala. The recruitment companies have adopted an aggressive marketing campaign, including using television adverts, the press, national and local radio and the internet with the intention of attracting students to apply for admission in British colleges and universities.
The recruitment campaigns illustrate the education packages on offer by using photos of the university campus and examples of the accommodation available once they arrive in the UK. The images being used are usually of high standard universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and other well respected institutions.
A massive financial burden is also being put on the student’s families as a result of them being charged huge amounts of money for the application process to be facilitated by agents from these companies.
The parents and families of the student often have to borrow money at a very high interest rate to afford the administration fees including obtaining the student visa, travel costs to the UK, and the university course fees. The students are led to believe that they will be able to earn large amounts of money once they arrive in the UK, to help pay back some of the money borrowed. At no point are these students being made aware of the actual living costs, including accommodation and travel while living in the UK, they are as a result arriving in the country with insufficient funds and often with no means of requesting additional financial support from their families back in India.

Bogus colleges and universities in the UK

Many students who managed to get to the UK with hopes of enrolling in to a legitimate university have been bitterly disappointed. They have arrived to find that their ‘respectable high quality’ university is actually a room above a fish and chips shop, or a small room in a factory or even in some cases, a mobile college in the back of a lorry. When the lorry moves, so does the college.
Students are left feeling shocked, ashamed and without any options. They cannot return home, after all the money which has been spent to get them into the UK to study and they cannot get a refund on the fees they have paid, so they are left with little choice but to take their place in the so-called college.
Some of these ‘institutions’ are being marketed as being fully accredited by the Education Department, along with unique accreditation numbers. They have official websites, advertise openly in the press and promote their courses all over the world. They are in a position to charge foreign student fees, run the courses for up to six months then close the college declaring bankruptcy only to open another one under different name and in a different place.

There are a hundreds of such bogus colleges all over the country. There is also the belief that a business network exists between these bogus colleges, as students have claimed their admissions officers and tutors have given them information about other specialist colleges where they could enrol to finish their courses, when faced with the imminent closure of the teaching school. Once again overseas students do not know who to turn to for guidance and are left with no choice but to take admission in a recommended college to complete their courses. Due to the condition of the student visa, they are required to notify the UKBA every time they change college for which a payment of fee is charged for renewal of their visa.
The Indian Workers’ Association (GB) would like to know:
1. How do these colleges get accreditation?
2. How do they meet the rule and regulations before they are accredited?
3. How do these colleges meet the health and safety executive rules and regulations?
4. Are these college buildings inspected?
5. Do these colleges and the courses they run have a required yearly inspection or they are exempt from such inspections? Or are these colleges not reachable by the Inspection Authorities because they are closed before time for inspection.
6. Is the higher Authority not aware of this practice or are they keeping a blind eye?
7. If the higher authority is aware then what action, if any, are they taking against such practices
If none of the above requirements are met then not only are the students financially exploited their safety is compromised that in our opinion is a criminal offence.

Living accommodation

As has been said above, the students are promised high standard accommodation usually in the university halls as part of the overseas student package. To add to their shock when they arrive in the UK they find themselves homeless. Those who are lucky enough to have a relative in Britain sometimes are accommodated for a limited period and those with no relations are left to find their own, if they can afford it, or end up living rough.

The agents back in India who made all the overseas arrangements are nowhere to be found. They no longer answer phone calls, and are not found at their last address. They cannot be traced; neither can the money paid to them for accommodation in advance.

A recent documentary produced by an Asian Television Channel and the BBC highlighted many problems foreign students are facing including the conditions in which they are forced to live in the Southall area of West London. Students, both young men and women, can be found living together under motorway bridges often in the bitter cold, while other are living in squalid, inhumane conditions in boarded up public houses and squats. Some are living without electricity, any form of heating or clean running water.

Crime and Disorder

In today’s economic climate, it is increasingly difficult for overseas students to find any employment. In order to survive, many are left with no choice but to commit acquisitive crimes such as shop lifting and mugging and some even escalate to crimes including burglary and selling drugs.
The people forced to live rough are vulnerable and in danger of being abused by predators. They are being targeted by local drug dealers and have become addicts to help block out the conditions in which they are being forced to survive. Many have become street drinkers, even where alcohol is against their family’s religion and culture which adds further to their shame and lack of self respect. Some women have turned to prostitution to make small amounts of money, while many others have become the victims of rape and other violent assaults. They are frightened to approach criminal justice system in fear of deportation.
After spending so much money to get to this country they feel unable to go back to their home country without their educational qualification or money earned through working in the UK. They therefore have no choice but to continue to live in harsh conditions that lead them to enter illegal activities they may never have thought about doing before.

Health service

A number of students who end up on the streets are unable to access their local health service and register with a G.P. because they do not have a fixed address. Consequently some of them become seriously ill and are too scared to attend at Accident and Emergency in fear of deportation.

The Indian Workers’ Association (GB) wish to appeal to you to help make the following changes:

1. These students are legal immigrants and came through proper and legal channels, it is important that they have all the citizen’s rights enjoyed by other British citizens.

2. They must have access to the educational opportunity they came to this country for and for which they have already paid.

3. They must be provided habitable accommodation, in line with the accommodation they have paid the university or college for before leaving their home country. Action to be taken by the authorities to recoup the monies paid to cover the costs.

4. They should have access to health service

5. All the colleges applying for accreditation must be ‘ofsted’ inspected and all staff must be CRB checked.

6. Action must be taken by the relevant authorities to clampdown on all bogus colleges and prosecution should be sought in every case.

7. All fees paid in advance must be deposited in a regulated clients account similar to landlords, estate agents, solicitors and other professional bodies. This money should not become accessible to the credited education institution until after the completion of the course. Parliamentary change in legislation to be brought about to extend the current provision applicable to other professional bodies.

8. When colleges declare bankruptcy, the students must not be left to bear the cost; their fees and other expenses must be paid back so that they can use that money to take admission in another college.

9. Not a single student should be pushed into a position where they find themselves helpless and in order make a living forced into criminal activities.

The Indian Workers’ Association (GB) wish to appeal to you to help us bring about change in legislation and practice to safeguard the interests of all students in Britain.

Harsev Bains
General Secretary