Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills
I want to update members on actions I have taken to address serious concerns about the Cardiff campus of the West London Vocational Training College.
The Welsh Government became aware of concerns about the West London Vocational Training College’s Cardiff campus in September of this year. At that point, our concerns centred on apparently unusual student recruitment trends and patterns at the College.
Officials discussed the status and operation of the College’s Cardiff campus with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Alternative Providers Intelligence Unit and subsequently instructed the validating partner – Pearson UK – to undertake a review of the Cardiff campus. Pearson visited the College on 21 October and no substantive concerns came to light at that time.
Assurance was also sought from Student Finance Wales (SFW) that all appropriate residency and eligibility checks were being undertaken in relation to students at the College. No residency problems were detected but SFW is subsequently undertaking a data matching exercise with Pearson.
Allegations have since come to light to suggest that one or more individuals within the College may have colluded with prospective students deliberately to defraud the student finance system by falsifying academic records and records of attendance at the College. I would expect any allegations of criminal activity to be referred to the police so that they may be investigated fully.
In view of the seriousness of the allegations now being made against the College, my officials have today written to the Student Loans Company instructing them to suspend all payments to the West London Vocational Training College and to its Cardiff students with immediate effect and while further investigations are ongoing.
Members may recall that earlier this year we consulted on proposals to strengthen criteria in relation to specific designation applications. Following that consultation we are considering introducing new and more stringent criteria in the New Year. This will include an applicant body, first and foremost having to demonstrate its status as a charity, as well as that it is financially viable and well-managed.