FIFTY would-be foreign students, mostly Chinese, have been excluded from Newcastle University for faking applications with forged academic certificates.
An investigation found documents, mainly English language qualifications or degrees awarded by other institutions, were of such “high quality” they could not have been detected by the usual checks by admissions officers.
Bosses were alerted after suspicions arose as a result of the poor performance of some students in compulsory assessment exams if English is not the first language and applications were cross-checked with the awarding bodies.
Newcastle University last night revealed it had lost more than £500,000 in tuition fees following the investigation but said this was a “financial sacrifice” it was prepared to make to uphold its status.
The move comes three months after the murders of two Chinese graduates from the university and claims that one of the victims, Zhen Xing Yang, had faked his application to gain a place to study in the North East.
Last night the university said many of the students affected appeared to be victims of bogus “agents”, based either in China or the UK, who were paid to submit applications, including supporting documents, on their behalf.
It said that all had arrived in the city within the last few weeks to begin their studies, and had documents relating to their applications and entry qualifications that were either “forged or altered to state higher grades” than were actually achieved. Both Northumbria Police and the Home Office were told of the investigation.
In August a three-day The Journal investigation following the brutal murders in Newcastle’s West End, revealed Mr Yang – known as Kevin – was linked with fake document scams, posting on Mandarin-speaking online forums that he could provide Chinese students with fake UK degree certificates to take home.
Of the 50 students excluded, 49 came from China and one from Taiwan, 33 were postgraduates and 17 were undergraduates. All were admitted at the start of the current academic year and the majority enrolled for programmes at Newcastle University Business School.
While Newcastle University said it accepted the use of agents was common among students from a number of countries, including China and that the majority are reputable, bogus agents have recently become a serious problem. All the students involved will still be charged for the month they have been enrolled.
And last night it revealed that it was introducing a number of changes to its admissions procedures, one of which will be to draw up and publish on its website a list of approved agents.
A spokesman added: “The vast majority of applications for study at this university are genuine. We are however aware that there is an increasing national and international problem of fraudulent applications and this prompted us, as a university, to take action.
“At Newcastle we have a team of people who are experienced at assessing applications, though we recognise that fraud can be very difficult to identify regardless of the systems in place.”
There are a total of 18,363 students at Newcastle University, of whom 2,280 are from overseas. More than 1,000 applications from overseas students are received each month.
A Home Office spokesperson added: “We are undergoing the biggest shake-up of border security and the immigration system for a generation.
“Under the new Australian-style points system, foreign students will face stringent new criteria if they want to study in the UK to ensure only those who benefit Britain can come.
“Before they can study here, foreign students must be sponsored by a UK Border Agency-licensed education institution, supply their fingerprints, and meet new criteria.”
The university is now urging other institutions to be vigilant against high quality forged certificates which it believes may be circulating widely.