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Course / Bogus Schools
How to avoid bogus schools, colleges or universities
  Identifying bogus schools
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If you choose to study at a privately owned "school" (on this page this term includes a university, college, language school or other type of educational establishment) you need to be careful. Some schools provide a very poor education or break laws (on these page these are called "bogus schools"). Education is a big business so it attracts criminals, but it is difficult for governments to take effective action against them. If you are an international student you have a higher risk, because to obtain a student visa you may need to choose a course before arriving in the UK. This page provides some guidance to help you to avoid bogus schools.

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Legal schools are described on this page and on other linked pages using expressions such as bona fide (meaning: "real, not false") or accredited (meaning: "officially recognized or approved"). Illegal schools (which do things which are against the law) are described using words such as bogus (meaning: "false, not real or not legal"), dodgy ("dishonest"), fake (meaning: "false"), sham or cowboy. An illegal activity which takes money unfairly may be called a fraud or scam.

One way to avoid them is to make sure that they have been approved by a proper accreditation agency (see below for a list of these). These perform checks on schools to make sure that they provide a good education. There are also some fake accreditation agencies which are known as accreditation mills - you should not study somewhere which claims to be accredited by one of these.

A visa factory is a school which accepts students which it knows do not plan to study or to attend classes but who plan to work full-time in the UK. This type of school may offer very cheap classes so that it can attract many students, even if it does not have enough classrooms to teach all of them.

If you are studying for a qualification or certificate you need to check that the place which issues it has been approved to do this.
A degree mill (or diploma mill) is somewhere that awards fake degrees or similar qualifications.

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Before you apply to a school you should check carefully whether it may be a bogus school. These are some things you can look for:


- Carefully check any claims about accreditation. A bogus schools sometimes falsely state that it has been accredited by a proper accreditation agency (check the website of the accreditation agency to make sure it is listed there). A bogus school sometimes lists a fake accreditation agency (an "accreditation mill") - in some cases they even own these agencies themselves. It is wise to avoid any school which claims to be accredited by one of the agencies listed here:

- Note that publicly owned schools, colleges and universities in the UK (funded by the British government) are all accredited, and are regularly inspected.

- The British Council accredits private English language schools. Accredited schools are members of English UK (see:

- The following accreditation agencies inspect privately owned schools, colleges or universities which are not mainly language schools:
BAC (British Accreditation Council) (see:
ASIC (Accreditation Service for International Colleges) (see:
Although checks are made by these accreditation agencies (usually every 3 or 4 years), some bogus schools manage to obtain accreditation. Students should satisfy themselves about the quality of the education being offered before making any payment.

- Carefully check any claims about links with public universities. Sometimes a bogus school claims to have a "special relationship" or "partnership" with a university, or even "accreditation" by the university, but this may be false or over-stated.

- Note that membership of a professional association does not mean that the school or its staff have been accredited. Many associations just require the payment of a fee to become a member. Some bogus schools even claim to be members of associations to which they do not belong.


- Check if the school is on the Register of Tier 4 Sponsors, using the exact name. See: You will not be given a student visa unless it is on this register. However, even if a school is on this list it does not mean that there have been checks on the quality of education provided. Some bogus schools falsely try to suggest that they have been accredited because they are on this list. If you are studying for a course leading to a degree or MBA issued by an external university in the UK, check that this university is also on the register.


- Be cautious about schools based in the UK which have mainly international (non-British) students but which offer degrees or other qualifications from other countries. Check the country in which the issuer of the qualification is based - don't assume that it is in the UK.

- Note that a certificate, degree or diploma is just a piece of paper. What is important is the value which is placed on this by employers in the UK or in other countries. Degrees or diplomas which have not been issued by a properly accredited university are worthless.

- You can find a list of UK-based institutions which are allowed to issue degrees, see: Degrees issued by these places are accepted by UK employers, and therefore it is a good idea to study for these qualifications.

- Lists of some of the places which are considered to be degree mills are regularly published by several US states (for example, the Office of Degree Authorization in Florida publishes this list: There is also a useful list on Wikipedia: You should avoid studying for a degree or other qualification awarded by these places.


- Bogus schools often use a name that is very similar to another well-known place of study. Don't assume that the "University of X" is the same as "X University", or that X is a place in the UK rather than a place of the same name in the US, Canada, Australia or elsewhere (many towns have the same names).

- Bogus schools change their names frequently. It is worth finding out how long a school has existed under its current name.

- Be cautious about schools which use well-known place such as Oxford, Cambridge or London in their names or websites but which are not located there.

- Do not assume that a name which contains a term such as "college" or "business school" is a recognised institution. Anyone can use these names. There are restrictions on who can use the name "university" or "institute" if they are registered in the UK, but some bogus schools ignore these rules or register themselves outside the UK.


- If you find a course which seems to be much cheaper than alternatives you should be careful to understand why this is so. The most likely reasons are that teachers are poorly qualified (so they are on very low wages), the building and facilities are in poor condition (or in a very cheap location), or students don't attend classes (so that it can take on many more students than it can actually teach). For example, it may be wise to avoid a language school which offers a full-time course (15 hours per week) for a year for less than £1,000. Your general living costs in the UK are probably at least £8,000 per year, so if your purpose of coming is to get an education it is a good idea to spend some money on going to a good school rather than just looking for the cheapest one.

- Make sure that there is a clear written policy about when the fees need to be paid, especially if you are taking courses which last 1 year or longer. Some bogus colleges accept you if you pay a deposit or part of the fees, but then refuse to issue you with a school letter until you have paid for the course in full.


- The websites of public UK universities generally end with "" (this shows it is an academic institution). Some private colleges try to trick students by using an address ending ".ac" - this means that the website has been registered in the Ascension Islands.

- Be careful of any website which uses fake images. In some cases the main image used on the homepage is a photo that clearly has not been taken there (look for unexpected views in the background). Sometimes groups of smiling students have been cut and pasted onto an image - look for missing shadows or unnatural colour changes at the edges. Sometimes very small images of the real school are displayed, in order to disguise the poor conditions.

- If the English on the website is poor then it has probably not been written or checked by a native English speaker. Note that some bogus schools have websites that use correct English.

- Be suspicious if the website contains links many links which do not work, especially if these are to accreditation agencies or other colleges/universities. This may be because these links were to other fake institutions whose websites have been closed down.


- Check who is the owner of the school/college/university. If it is public (owned by the government) then it will be inspected regularly and if it issues degrees these will be accepted by UK employers. If it is private, you may want to find the owner's name and to do an internet search. Note that sometimes the owners use fake titles, names, or initials after their names to make themselves appear to be highly educated or trustworthy.


- Check whether the person who is shown as the Principal is actively involved in the management of the college. Sometimes an academic is paid money by a bogus school to allow his/her name and photo to be used.

Press/web coverage

- Search the internet for references to the school (use: Some scam schools may have been investigated by journalists, but in many cases action has not yet been taken to close them down.

- Check for any reference to the school in the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia (remember that these articles have been written by individuals so they may not be accurate). See:

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If you are in the UK and believe that you have misled or cheated out of money by a bogus school and are unable to solve the problem by talking to the school, you should gather copies of any correspondence with the school (letters, e-mails and brochures) and print any website pages which you believe were misleading. Write down any important dates or events. If other students have also been affected, find out if some of them are willing to take action jointly with you.

You can contact the Trading Standards office which is nearest to the school:

If the school (or one of its "partner" schools) is accredited, you can make a formal complaint to the accreditation agency (for a list of these, see above).

You can check your rights by contacting Consumer Direct: or your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau:

If you are unable to attend classes because of a problem with a bogus school, contact the Home Office so that they know why you are not attending.
Contact details for the public enquiry offices:
Note that if you cannot attend classes you should be planning to move to another school (or to return home) as soon as possible.

You may need the help of a firm of solicitors. See:

Note that if you do not have much money you may be able to claim legal aid, for more information see:
Legal Services Commission (for England and Wales):
The Scottish Legal Aid Board (for Scotland):
Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission (for Northern Ireland):

You may consider claiming for money from the Small Claims Court (in 2008 you could claim up to £5,000 from this court). See:
Claims can be made online at:

If you feel you are in immediate danger telephone the police. For urgent crimes dial 999. For matters that can wait for a while call your local police, or visit the local police station. If you need to be able to prove that the police were called, ask the local police station for the police incident number.

OFQUAL (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) provides advice for students here:

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Below are some articles (mainly from the British press) connected with the issues discussed on this page. They are listed in order of publication date.


"Foul language: shifty college boss who fleeces hard-up students" (Mirror, November 23, 2001):


"Bogus degree sites shut down" (BBC News, 7 Mar 2003)

"Visa scam language school is closed" (Evening Standard, 23 June 2003)

"Evendine College in the UK closes all its schools" (Language Travel Magazine, September 2003):


"Fake universities thrive on the web" (BBC News, 5 Jan 2004)

"The real thing?" (The Guardian, 20 April 2004),12743,1195277,00.html

"Raids smash student visa racket" (BBC News, 16 June 2004)

"100 fake colleges in visa scam" (The Guardian, 22 June 2004),,1244623,00.html

"Paper tiger" (The Guardian, 12 October 2004),,1324728,00.html


"Language school visa scam" (BBC Inside Out, 14 March 2005):

"Degree mills: an old problem and a new threat" (Council for Higher Education Accreditation, US, May 2005)

"Getting a visa without the graft" (The Guardian, September 27, 2005):,,1578509,00.html

"Valid excuse" (The Guardian, September 27, 2005):,,1578512,00.html

"I earn up to £350 per student" (The Guardian, September 27, 2005):,,1578510,00.html

Further articles by Radhieka Pandeya (September 2005):

Follow-up letters to the above (The Guardian, October 4 2005):,,1583779,00.html

"Crackdown fails to stop language schools visa racket" (Daily Telegraph, 7 November 2005):

"No lessons, but college paperwork helps foreign student to stay" (Daily Telegraph, 7 November 2005):


"Language school checks to halt visa rackets" (Daily Telegraph, 18 April 2006):

"Big rise in student visas raises fear of scams" (Daily Telegraph, 14 June 2006):

"Language schools have become illegal visa factories" (BBC Press Release, 28 June 2006):

"Schools used as visa scam front" (BBC News, 28 June 2006)

"Government urged to tighten registration rules for language schools" (Guardian, 29 June 2006):,,1808984,00.html

"College above discount shop dashes hopes" (Times Higher Education, 8 September 2006):


"When will UK act to grind down the degree mills?" (Times Higher Education Supplement, 16 February 2007):

"Enforcing the rules: a strategy to ensure and enforce compliance with our immigration laws" (Home Office, March 2007) (see chapter 1, section 20) [this is a PDF file]

"Degree mills bank on allure of UK names" (Times Higher Education Supplement, 20 April 2007):

"Students claim 'college' took thousands for bogus courses" (The Herald, 6 July 2007):

"Uncovered: a tale of two colleges" (The Herald, 7 July 2007):

"Mexican duped by 'college' ordered out of UK" (The Herald, 9 July 2007):

"Visa probe into bogus colleges" (The Herald, 11 July 2007):

"End to bogus colleges" (The Herald, 11 July 2007):

"Threat of court action to owner of colleges" (The Herald, 14 July 2007):

"Loophole of visas via bogus colleges will be closed" (The Herald, 25 July 2007):

"UK language school closes doors to students" (Language Travel Magazine, September 2007):

"First lesson: how to enter the UK" (The Herald, 7 September 2007):

"Bogus college exposed by The Herald is struck off visa list" (The Herald, 7 September 2007):

"Student leaders call for Holyrood purge of bogus colleges" (The Herald, 8 September 2007):

"Bogus colleges operating in Scotland" (The Loop [NUS Scotland], September 2007) [this is a PDF file]

"Police raid suspected bogus colleges" (Education Guardian, 4 October 2007):,,2183804,00.html

"Three arrested after swoop on suspected bogus colleges" (The Herald, 5 October 2007):

"67 students receive visas after paying £500 to bogus college" (The Herald, 8 October 2007):

"Privately-run college faces action over false adverts" (The Herald, 8 October 2007):

"Bogus college couple held on fraud claims" (The Herald, 8 November 2007):

"Bogus colleges in Scotland" (letter from Association of Scotland's Colleges) [this is a PDF file]


"Investigating the bogus education scam" (BBC London, 5 January 2008):

"Director of bogus college hit with fine" (LACORS, 5 February 2008)

"College fraudsters in new visa scam" (BBC News, 10 December 2008)


"Tough new rules target bogus colleges and education cheats" (UK Border Agency, 31 March 2009)

"Bogus colleges barred in visa crackdown" (Evening Standard, 31 March 2009)

"Stockport Road, Manchester, where colleges for Pakistani students cluster" (The Times, 15 April 2009)
related links:
"Student visa scam allowing terror suspects into Britain" (The Times, 14 April 2009)
"Bogus foreign students free to flout new laws" (The Times, 15 April 2009)
"Bogus colleges and student scams" (The Times, 15 April 2009)

"UK ignored warning on bogus students" (The Observer, 26 April 2009)

"Bogus colleges: Closing the loophole" (The Journal, 27 April 2009)

"Dubious agents lure local students with 'safe passage' to the UK" (The News, 16 May 2009)

"Sham colleges open doors to Pakistani terror suspects" (The Times, 21 May 2009)
related links:
"Former pub became the centre of a web of bogus colleges" (The Times, 21 May 2009)
" 'Approved' college sells diplomas to help foreign students stay in UK" (The Times, 22 May 2009)
"Business as usual for college founders flouting crackdown" (The Times, 22 May 2009)
"Route to riches for Pakistanis starts in seedy cellar in Islamabad" (The Times, 22 May 2009)

"'Thousands' of bogus UK students" (BBC, 2 June 2009)

"The Indian illegal immigrant, his two wives and Britain's biggest ever visa scam" (Daily Mail, 3 June 2009)
related links:
"Immigration fraud is 'damning indictment' of Home Office" (The London Paper, 27 May 2009)
"Three jailed over UK visa fraud" (BBC, 3 June 2009)

"Bogus college sold fake diplomas to help migrants stay in Britain" (Daily Mail, 4 June 2009)

"Catching the college heroin gang" (BBC, 5 June 2009)
related links:
"College bosses smuggled heroin" (BBC, 5 June 2009)
"Six Charged Following Major Drugs Operation In Bradford" (West Yorkshire Police press release, 2 July 2008)]
"Bradford college involved in drugs racket, claim" (Telegraph & Argus, 28 April 2009)
"Bradford men in £500,000 conspiracy" (Telegraph & Argus, 5 June 2009)
"Education firm 'was front for heroin smuggling'" (Yorkshire Post, 29 April 2009)

" 'Bogus' college students face removal" (BBC London, 22 June 2009)

"Man given job of closing bogus colleges was sacked by university" (The Times, 29 June 2009)

"Bogus college crackdown welcomed" (BBC Scotland, 21 July 2009)
"Bogus college action 'inadequate'" (BBC Education, 21 July 2009)

Home Affairs Committee - Eleventh Report: "Bogus colleges" (21 July 2009)
related links:
"Committee investigate bogus colleges" (Home Affairs Committee in Parliament, 2 June 2009)
Videos of the Home Affairs Committee meetings about bogus colleges (2 & 16 June 2009) (2 June) (16 June; starts after 1h24, duration: 30 minutes)

"My sham degree from UK 'college'" (BBC, 29 July 2009)

"Students duped by ‘scam degrees’ from bogus colleges" (East London Advertiser, 27 October 2009)

"Bogus student checks 'don't work'" (BBC, 1 November 2009)

"Evidence of a flawed visa system which is open to fraud" (BBC2 Newsnight report, 12 November 2009)

"King’s College of Management gets new licence after fake places scandal" (The Times, 21 December 2009)


"Bogus Colleges Exposed: Gang Jailed" (Advice for you, 19 January 2010)

"UK student visa system fraud exposed" (BBC2 Newsnight report, 24 February 2010)

" 'Wonder woman' college principal jailed for conning students" (Daily Telegraph, 30 April 2010)

"Bogus colleges 'used as cover for illegal immigration' " (Daily Telegraph, 8 September 2010)

"Three Nigerians in UK jail over college visa scam" (Next, 16 December 2010)


"Senior staff at college arrested on suspicion of immigration offences" (UKBA, 1 March 2011)

"University of Wales degree and visa scam exposed by BBC" (BBC, 5 October 2011)

"Colleges lose licences in immigration crackdown" (BBC, 2 November 2011)

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