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Institutes to be avoided # 2

Universities: Accreditation
Lord Quirk: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a former vice-chancellor of London University and as a current governor of the Richmond American University in London, both of which institutions have had nasty brushes with the bodies named in my Question.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the legal status of the bodies known as the American University in London and the American University of London; and what action is being taken with respect to their activities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, those institutions are not universities that are recognised by the UK authorities and do not have Privy Council approval to use university title in a business name. Furthermore, neither of those institutions is accredited in the United States.

Our department has contacted both Islington and Kensington and Chelsea trading standards officers. Trading standards are still investigating options for enforcement under the Education Reform Act 1988, the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1988, the Companies Act 1985 and the Business Names Act 1985.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I note that it is the Department for Education and Skills that has taken responsibility for responding to my Question, and I am grateful to the Minister. But given that two other departments of state have a valid concern in this 10-year saga, does the Minister accept that no small part of my frustration is the

17 Jun 2004 : Column 868

feeling that it has become something of a pass-the-parcel game between the Home Office, the DTI and the Department for Education and Skills? Does the Minister also accept that as well as providing a handy route for dodgy entry visas, the selling of dodgy degree diplomas tarnishes the reputation of higher education in this country?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, in preparing for this Question, I ensured that we consulted our colleagues in the Home Office and the DTI. I do not believe that it is a case of passing the parcel. It is incredibly difficult to deal with these issues. I understand the noble Lord’s frustration, but, as he knows well, the Acts to which I referred are those under which we are able to undertake any prosecutions or to work with colleagues in trading standards. That is very difficult when there are companies that have addresses in, say, the West Indies, as occurred in one case, or which operate solely on the Internet where there are real issues about operating on an international basis.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, the Minister said that these are incredibly difficult issues to deal with. That probably suggests that we need a better way of dealing with them. Does she not agree that the careful supervision of the right to use the title “university” in this country is an important safeguard to our students? It is an important asset to British universities that are seeking to attract students from the marketplaces of the world. As higher education increasingly becomes a tradable service, that is an important issue.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I could not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, more. Again, I was careful to check the exact figures. We have education exports worth about £10.2 billion to the UK economy, of which higher education exports contributes just over £4 billion. As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, may know, we are consulting on the new criteria for degree-awarding powers and university title. Consultation is out at the moment: it finishes on 25 June. We will publish new criteria for degree-awarding powers and university title later.

The DfES plans to set up a register of learning providers in the United Kingdom, which will include public and private-funded providers. That will confirm that the organisations exist and are providing learning.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I declare an interest as pro-chancellor of the University of London. Can the Minister confirm the recent reports that the Immigration Service has been detecting people who have arrived in this country to study at institutions that latterly have been discovered not to exist? Do the Government maintain a list of existing organisations and institutions to which foreign student entry is appropriate? Do they make that list available to the Immigration Service?

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