Previously I noted that the counting of closures of bogus colleges was something of an exact science. Having asked the Home Office for a list of those ‘closed’ (which is the language used by ministers) I had a helpful reply explaining that they measured colleges that had come off the Tier 4 register of sponsors. This included colleges that had subsequently gone back on the register and a number of colleges who, you could presume, had come off the Tier 4 register as it was no longer appropriate for them.
I wrote to the Home Secretary about this, as you do. I got no response, which is what I expected. Then, in a moment of excitement I wrote to the Immigration Minister after the new Universities Minister cited another number for closed bogus colleges. Suddenly I had a response to my first letter, only 5 months later. And what a fine thing it is:
It repeated what they’d already told me, and I’d confirmed in my letter to the Home Secretary. My concern was that ministers were using the number of colleges who’d left the register at any point as a proxy for a number of bogus colleges they’d closed. I’d asked that they get a better number to use in speeches. This letter explains:
The information we previously supplied to you under the FOI Act was not provided under National Statistics protocols and had been derived from local management information is therefore provisional and subject to change.
However*, the information they provided was a list of colleges that had been removed from the register. It’s hard to see how that can be provisional and subject to change. Does this sentence imply that the number given in speeches by the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and others is given under national statistics protocols? If so it seems very imprecise.
In October 2014 the Prime Minister announced
“We clamped down on bogus students and stopped nearly 800 fake colleges bringing people in.”
I had my list of places with revoked sponsors from the Home Office a week earlier, so it was likely to be pretty contemporaneous with the data supplied to the PM. It had 835 entries on it. 44 had subsequently returned to the list. That would accord with the ‘nearly 800’ (is ‘nearly’ a word defined under those national statistics protocols?). However*, I went through the list and found places that were clearly not ‘fake colleges’. I sent Mrs May a list of 50 that I had found without trying very hard. That is why I wrote to the Home Secretary. The problem was the way that the total number was being cited. Pedantic, I know, but removal from the sponsor list could very well because the provider didn’t want to be on it. Tier 4 requirements changed – a private girls school (several on the revoked list are) might not need to sponsor Tier 4 students.
But old habits die hard. In Jo Johnson’s first speech as Universities minister he said:
“It is right that we are clamping down on fraudulent applications and bogus colleges – we have stopped over 870 of these institutions from recruiting international students since 2010 and will take all steps necessary to protect international students from rogue providers and dodgy operators.”
My concern is that he’s been given data by the Home Office that means he’s lumped Dartford Grammar School for Boys, Elmfield Rudolf Steiner School, Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, Fareham College, Haberdashers’ Aske School for Girls, Leyton Sixth Form College, Queen’s College London or South Downs College into a category of “rogue providers and dodgy operators”.
Sadly then, the people in the Treat Official Team haven’t answered my question or addressed my point.
* I thought I’d practice starting sentences with ‘However’ for when I start writing to Michael Gove