Recently, news broke that the UK government had shut down 32 fake universities and was investigating 30 more. Earlier, in June, Western Kentucky University (WKU), a genuine university in the US, forced 25 Indian first-year students of computer science to leave because they did not meet admission requirements. Several months ago, Air India offloaded 19 students from a flight in Hyderabad, as they were headed to US universities that were under suspicion.
If an agent promises things he is unauthorized to promise (admission, visa)... he is setting you up for deportation.
Unfortunately, such cases are becoming increasingly common. Regardless of whether the perpetrator of fraud is a fake university or an unscrupulous recruitment agent, the students involved pay a heavy price. Deportation is a permanent blot on your record, and could irreparably damage your chances of getting into another school, and of getting any visa in the future.
The best person to protect you from fraud is yourself. If you're planning to study abroad, be sure to avoid these five common mistakes that could lead to serious trouble.
1. Letting someone else steer your application process
That someone else could be a recruitment agent. He may recommend a university based on his understanding of your concerns, but may not know much about your chosen field of study. If you're lucky, he will be competent and will recommend a school that matches your academic and career goals. But what if he's not the brightest crayon in the box? And if he's unscrupulous, he may simply recommend whatever school -- real or fake -- pays him to recruit you. So don't be passive -- consult others but make your own decisions.
2. Not understanding the basics
It's a human tendency to avoid things that seem tedious or daunting, such as putting together a university application package, researching scholarships or applying for a visa. But the better you understand how these processes work, the more you can make of the advice you get. It is easier and cheaper than ever to find reliable information -- for example, through college search engines and education services offered through various countries' diplomatic missions. Use such unbiased sources to learn about university accreditation, the admissions process, funding, visas, degree programs and so on.
3. Relying on a shady agent
Don't fall into the trap of thinking the end justifies the means. An agent may walk you through the application and visa process. But if you haven't understood the basics, you may not be able to discern if the agent is driven by something other than your goals. If he promises things he is unauthorized to promise (admission, visa), or if he urges you to "tweak" your records to "improve" your chances, he is setting you up for deportation. Remember that college officials who review thousands of applications every year have plenty of experience in smelling a rat, and if you're lucky you will only be denied admission. It's possible that you may end up paying a heavier price.
Criminal investigators and immigration officials are on to "student visa mills", some of which recruit large numbers of fee-paying students from India.
4. Fudging your credentials (or letting an agent fudge them)
You may scrape through the admissions process by misrepresenting your qualifications or skills. But as they say, you can't fool all people all the time. In a higher education system that emphasizes analytical skills and participation in classroom discussion (as opposed to cramming for exams), your peers and professors will notice if you are unprepared. If it's a recurring issue, you can be sure that the university will take it seriously, as WKU did in the case above.
5. Having a goal other than studying
If you want to go to another country to work, just look for work. Don't enroll in a shady university just to get a student visa so that you can go there and start looking for jobs. Criminal investigators and immigration officials are on to "student visa mills", some of which recruit large numbers of fee-paying students from India. If you end up applying to a visa mill, you'd be fortunate to just be denied a student visa, because the other outcome could be deportation.