English UK members have instructed lawyers to demand a full retraction and apology for wrongly including them on a list of colleges "banned" from bringing international students into the UK.
The organisation, which has more than 450 fully-accredited language centres in membership, is co-ordinating the action by a number of its members who were named on a list of 66 "banned" colleges released to the media last week.
They were described as being among 474 which have either had licences revoked, cannot sponsor any new students or have been banned following an investigation.
However, at least 22 of the schools are fully-accredited English UK members which took the business decision to voluntarily resign from the Register of Sponsors this autumn. They meet high inspection standards, can still legitimately teach certain groups of international students, and have not in any sense been banned.
"We are co-ordinating action over the way in which the Home Office allowed it to be inferred that all the colleges on that list were bogus, fronts for illegal immigration, or of poor educational quality. This has been enormously damaging to the reputation of perfectly legitimate and high-quality businesses," said Tony Millns, chief executive of English UK.
"Our affected members are initially asking the Home Office for a full retraction of this misleading information, and they may consider pursuing those parts of the media which published the list or stories based upon it as well.
"We and our hard-working, law-abiding members are absolutely furious about this."
The legal letter complains of the "misinformation" placed in the public domain by the UK Border Agency. "Such misinformation so far as it relates to our clients is untrue, defamatory and gravely damaging to their goodwill and reputations. This letter therefore seeks an immediate apology and retraction," it says.
The letter goes on to state that the press release and news items based directly on it amount to a "flagrant defamation" of the colleges "in that the impression has been created that those on the banned list are untrustworthy, offering an immigration service other than education, have lost the right to bring international students to the UK, is not a first class education provider, does not meet the standards required of a Tier 4 sponsor when it chose not to apply, is abusing immigration controls, and is facilitating the abuse of student visas".
"The potential damage is potentially substantial, irreparable and unquantifiable," says the letter, requesting an "immediate and unqualified apology".
Most of the English UK members named on the "banned list" decided against remaining on the Register of Sponsors either because it was uneconomic to do so or because their businesses did not require it.
It is only necessary to be on the Register of Sponsors to bring in points-based visa students on longer-term courses, such as a university degree. Summer schools, centres specialising in English courses of up to 11 months, and those who only take students from the EU, do not need to be points-based sponsors.
Some centres which did take small numbers of points-based visa students made the decision to withdraw from this market in September, when new regulations meant they faced a five-fold increase in inspection costs. Many smaller businesses that provide education of an exceptionally high quality could simply not afford this.
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