A BRADFORD college has reacted with outrage after being barred from admitting foreign students in a cheating scandal – accusing the Government of a “witch-hunt”.

Bradford Metropolitan College is among 57 institutions which had their licences suspended after up to 48,000 immigrants passed language tests - despite being unable to speak English.

After fraudulently obtaining English language certificates, the students were able to stay in Britain and work illegally.

A criminal investigation is under way into ETS Global Ltd, one of the biggest providers of English language tests, after allegations were raised at some of the firm’s testing centres.

But the Home Office is also targeting 57 further education colleges, arguing that investigations found “cause for serious concern” at many of them.

Announcing the suspension of ‘tier four sponsor’ status, James Brokenshire, a Home Office minister, said: “The Government are not prepared to tolerate this abuse,

“We will not hesitate to take firm action against those - students, colleges and universities -who do not abide by their legal responsibilities.”

But Bradford Metropolitan College, in Campus Road, said it was “shocked” by the punishment, vowing to take legal advice and appeal.

Its project manager Sarah Cook warned of the financial damage to a small business which “makes a contribution to the local economy”.

And she said: “We feel we are being targeted in a witch-hunt, which appears to be implying that we are part of organized criminal activity - which we strongly refute.

“All students are rigorously tested and meet all Home Office criteria. Indeed, we have held highly trusted Tier Four status since April 2013.

“We can only speculate as to why we are being targeted but feel strongly that the grounds are completely defensible and we are taking legal advice.”

The college had been operating since 2009, she added.

Bradford College of Management, in Cheapside, is also among the 57 institutions punished, but it was not answering telephone calls yesterday. The Telegraph & Argus understands its director was in a meeting with the Home Office in Birmingham yesterday afternoon.

But Mr Brokenshire said there was also evidence of colleges failing to report students’ absence or test failures because to do so would “reduce the college’s income”.

And, explaining the scam, he told MPs: “Facilitated by organised criminals, this typically involved invigilators supplying, even reading out, answers to whole exam rooms, or gangs of imposters being allowed to step into the exam candidates' places to sit the test.

“Evidently this could only happen with considerable collusion by the test centres concerned.”

ETS had identified more than 29,000 invalid results and more than 19,000 questionable results, with the final figures likely to be higher.

Immigration enforcement officers have started work to identify migrants who are in the country illegally as a result of the falsified language tests so they can be removed.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is also helping the investigation by scrutinising pay and tax records.

Work undertaken by HMRC so far has identified a number of overseas university students earning more than £20,000 a year despite the rule that they must not work more than 20 hours per week during term time.

Bradford Council leader David Green said he had no specific knowledge of the latest cases but added: “This is not a Bradford issue, it is a national issue that has been going on for some time.

“The only way I think it can be resolved long term would be for it to be done through public institutions only.

“If we are asking people to obtain English qualifications then we have a duty to ensure they are not getting ripped off or fraudulently obtaining their qualifications.”