Some Indian students have graduated from sophisticated courses in New Zealand taught in English without being able to understand the language, government documents have revealed.
The documents, released under the Official Information Act, showed an investigation called Operation Shakespeare conducted interviews with 66 Indian graduates who had been interviewed in India prior to being accepted to bachelor-level courses with New Zealand private training establishments.
Of the 66 students interviewed, four had poor knowledge of the course they had just completed, three could not name any subjects and two were unable to complete the interview without a translator.
Lawyer Alastair McClymont, who requested the documents, said the students' literacy standards raised questions about the schools issuing the NZQA credits, but also about how the students gained enrolment.
"One of the conclusions that came out of the report is that while there was a small number sample of 66, where Immigration had conducted interviews with the students and later on when the students arrived in NZ they were interviewed again, they found out some had extremely poor English so the conclusion was that there must have been an impostor who did the initial interview.
"While the numbers were small, the sample size was also small so when we consider when there are 200,000 students coming from India, it looks as though we may have 6-700 students coming through using impostors to get on these courses."
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment concluded impostors may have completed interviews instead of some students and suggested that when in doubt, interviews should be conducted in person or on Skype.
The report showed one student reported a bilingual tutor or classmate had translated the course for them into their own language, so it was possible some students understood the course in Hindi or Punjabi, but not English.
Mr McClymont said many of his clients who were accused of obtaining their visa by fraudulent means reported the same thing.
"If the written assignments they are providing aren't theirs, it throws up all sorts of issues around plagiarism and copying assignments.
"A lot of people can buy assignments online. You basically buy the assignment, submit it, get the credits and you've got the qualification."
The Operation Shakespeare documents showed some students would then end up in high-risk areas such as horticulture and hospitality where they did not understand their rights.
"If you've got someone who doesn't understand a business diploma then they can't understand employment contracts, employment rights, all websites here are in English, they don't understand what their rights are and that can lead to exploitation.
Mr McClymont said the basic problem lay with agents in India and China.
"They're not selling education in New Zealand, they are selling a qualification as a pathway to being able to work and to ultimately obtain residence.
"A lot of the education agents will sell a course on the basis of how easy it is to get through the course, to do the assignments and pass the exams; then to get the qualifications to get the three-year works rights.
"That's something Immigration New Zealand is compliant in because so much of the information on their website is about study as a pathway to residency. That is the selling point."
Another conclusion from the documents was that impostors may have been able to sit exams through the internationally recognised IELTS English testing system.
Mr McClymont said one person provided an IELTS certificate they had passed in India, but were still found to have extremely poor English when they got to New Zealand.
He said that raised questions about the veracity of the system.
Following Operation Shakespeare, every student had to provide a certificate through the IELTS system to deal with this problem.
"That's extremely difficult because IELTS is pretty foolproof - they do require photo identification and there is a central system where checks are done and they tend to be pretty reliable - so if there's flaws in that system, we are going to continue to have this problem."