The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) has designated Tallinn private higher education provider Euroacademy an untrustworthy institution and refuses to issue residence permits for the school’s students.
The PPA decided to stop the school’s dubious import of foreign students this week, after months of hesitation. Not a single residence permit will be issued for around one hundred foreign students from exotic countries admitted to the school this year. The reason unprecedented: the school has simply gone too far.
Even though the absurdity of the situation described in the following article is better suited to the hectic times of the 1990s, events took place in an accredited vocational higher education school this spring.
It is no great secret the Euroacademy has been under the watchful eye of the PPA for years. Estonia’s schools are preferred by aspiring students from outside the Schengen visa area whose academic level is often questionable. Things take a turn for the worse when schools start to overlook those academic shortcomings.
The Euroacademy’s past practices caused the PPA to forward a recommendation in February: changes should be made by the time new students arrive at the latest to avoid misuse of residence permits.
Problems have been numerous in previous academic years. Officials have found, when vetting the school’s student candidates, some unable to speak or write in English to a sufficient degree in a situation where the school requires a proficiency level of B2. Some students invited to study at the school could not afford to live in Estonia. Some applicants couldn’t even say what they would study, where, and why.
The police also suspected that entrance interviews conducted using Skype, for example, in cases of students from Africa, had one person behind the computer and another turn up at school.
The PPA made several recommendations and struck an agreement with the school in March. The academy was supposed to attach screenshots of student candidates to transcripts of motivation interviews it sends to the PPA. Secondly: in cases where the agency requests repeat interviews with suspicious candidates, the school was to include a video recording of the interview. Finally, the school had to comply with the law in notifying the PPA whenever a foreign student failed to show up for an extended period.
What comes next is all but anecdotal. The PPA now claims – six months after the agreement and a new round of admittance – that while the school reports it has taken a screenshot to go with interviews, none have been sent to the police.
What is more, the academy sends the police audio recordings of repeat interviews, but no video. The PPA has asked the school for six repeat interviews and only gotten five this year.
“We cannot see who is speaking,” said head of the foreigners’ service of the PPA migration bureau Signe Sulbi. The recordings, that sport rather poor quality, often leave the impression the interviewer and the candidate cannot understand each other at all. “Questions are asked in an increasingly simplified form to get some semblance of an answer. This suggests the language proficiency of student candidates is not sufficiently verified,” Sulbi said. The school has so far said it lacks the competence to evaluate candidates’ language skills.
The police have not remained idle. On March 28, the PPA interviewed foreign student Abdul (name changed – O. K.) who applied for the Euroacademy’s economics and business management master’s program in Russian.
A PPA officer asked the man simple and routine questions using a translator, while Abdul only replied: “I do not understand” in Russian. A week later, the Euroacademy reported the student had been fluent during their interview and gotten a score of 70-80 percent in the written language test. The test was graded by a lector at the school who found Abdul’s language skills merited the B2 level.
Similar discrepancies between test results and actual language proficiency were discovered in other Euroacademy curricula. One candidate took unnaturally long pauses before answering questions over Skype, suggesting someone was helping them. The desire of foreigners to study in Russian at the Euroacademy is understandable as tuition fees are lower compared to courses in English.
Several cases where students simply misused residence permits were discovered this spring. One of the more curious incidents took place on March 31, when a young lady from a third county with a Euroacademy residence permit was detained at Tallinn Airport. The PPA found the student had not spent any time in Estonia or indeed the Schengen area in the past seven months. Someone else had taken exams and marked her as present for her at the academy. How something like that is even possible at a vocational school is not police business; however, the young woman’s residence permit was repealed on April 1.
The PPA now started to think the school either couldn’t or didn’t want to understand the problem. “The school did not take us seriously as recently as May. That bringing people sporting such profiles to live in Estonia is a threat to public order and security,” Sulbi said.
These are exactly the kinds of violations a new provision of the Foreigners Act, entered into force in January, aims to combat. It allows the PPA to refuse residence permits if a school has been found untrustworthy. The provision is nothing new: a similar clause has been in place for employers for some time.
It is up to the police to interpret the untrustworthiness of schools. “Our reasons are the same we told the school in February: insufficient evaluation of language proficiency and academic ability,” Sulbi explained.
The approach is simple: residence permits of all Euroacademy foreign students from third countries will be denied starting from this year. The first decisions were made this week. Only the school knows how many students the unpleasant news awaits.
The fate of a number of students who have already arrived in Estonia and started their studies in September remains uncertain. They must either leave the country or quickly find a spot in another Estonian higher education school.
Rector of the Euroacademy Jüri Martin did not wish to answer Postimees’ questions despite frequent requests. We do not know the school’s plans for disappointed foreign students, or how it plans to restore its credibility in the eyes of the PPA.