Why BBC’s sensationalist expose of the abuse with regards to TOEFL/TOEIC in UK makes gross generalisations and affects more?

Why sensationalist journalism lets down international students

On Monday, BBC Panorama aired a segment exposing “student visa system fraud.” The footage showed students being given test answers to English language exams and having “fake sitters” take oral computer-administered exams. It then showed as agents provided students with fraudulent documents.

This is a reproduction of the article by Daniel Stevens. Original article can be found on this link.

Now, Panorama should be commended for exposing wrongdoing and this type of activity should be rightfully condemned and rooted out.  However, without context or balance, such coverage can tar the image of every single international student in the UK with its sensationalism and dramatics. These are quotes from the programme:

“Blantant fraud,” “thriving market,” “wide open to abuse,” “marketplace for fraud,” “students staying on illegally,” “systematic immigration fraud,” “flagrant abuses in the student visa system,” “most of the students come here to work, college is just an excuse,” “bogus students obtain visas through fraud,” “A student tier that was so unselective,” “bogus colleges,” “our investigation proves fraud is rife,” “damages credibility of the entire visa process,” “thriving market in bogus documents,” “it’s clear from our investigation that the student visa system is riddled with fraud,” “such a weak system,” “the Government hasn’t done anything to tackle it,” “free for all,” “the government is determined to stop the free for all,” “whole system appears chaotic,” “it was by no means a one off” “what’s clear is the UK student visa system remains an easy target.”

With very little context about the student visa system, a layperson would watch Panorama and envisage hundreds of thousands of students coming to the UK to abuse the system. At no point did it attempt to describe the numbers of those abusing the system.

I want to put into context what an international student has to do to get a visa to come study in the UK:

  1. Pay over £400 to get a visa if it is a visa extension.
  2. Have their biometrics (fingerprints) taken and be issued with an identity card.
  3. Undertake a credibility interview.
  4. Secure a sufficient number of points through the point-based system to be eligible for a student visa.
  5. Have their attendance consistently monitored by their institutions and be reported for any illegal activity.
  6. Progress academically.
  7. Be required to speak “English near-GCSE level.”
  8. Go to an institution that has a Highly-Trusted-Sponsor status. That means there is an awarding body that checks the integrity of quality of the courses offered.
  9. Register with the police upon arrival.
  10. Show enough funds in the bank to prove that they can maintain themselves financially. This is full tuition and £9000 living expenses.

Even then, if they go to a private college- they have absolutely no working rights. Students in publicly funded further education can only work 10 hours a week. In the programme, Panorama paid £2800 to get the fake documents needed to then be able to pay to go to such a college.

I do not believe there is wide scale abuse. I do not believe the system is “riddled” or “rife” with fraud. I believe that this is an extremely sophisticated, complex and costly system that was rightfully uncovered. It’s ridiculous to make the logical conclusion that because this activity/behaviour is happening the wider system is compromised. First, even if a thousand international students were using this system- that’s only 0.3 per cent of the overall total. Second, they would still not be able to work legally. Third, they would still be monitored by their institution. As one VC put it in an interview, international students are monitored in the UK in a way that would make Stalin proud.

This sad truth is that this simply gives more fuel for the Home Secretary to make further political attacks on the education sector. One which is already barely recovering from her previous volleys. Numbers of international students in further education and private providers have dropped by 80 per cent. The sector has basically been wiped out. Numbers in Universities have fallen for the first time in history. A recent NUS survey found that 51 per cent of non-EU students found the UK Government either unwelcoming of very unwelcoming and 19 per cent would not recommend the UK to a friend or relative. The programme is already being used to defend the Government’s overreaching policies.

I hope the ratings were worth it Panorama. Legitimate international students are the ones who will likely suffer because of it.




  1. How BBC Panorama has stooped so low and become a stooge of anti-immigration lobby. I thought BBC always checked facts !


  2. Panorama has form here (when watching other documentaries), appealing to the older generation viewer audience in UK and ‘white nativist’ view points on issues related to ‘foreigners’ whether Tory or UKIP or BNP or EDL or even Labour (while Business Secretary Vince Cable is one politican who understands isssues). They blame students, agents, colleges etc. not incompetence and mismanagement of British authorities and regulators…. They are the same dark anti immigration and zero population growith forces that influence politicians and media in Australia and USA using a thin academic veneer to demonise immigrants and students.


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