The Home Office has released new guidance for Tier 4 sponsors containing a number of new or amended requirements as follows:
We announced before Christmas that the Home Office was considering significant changes to the rules on partnerships and these are included in the new guidance.
The new rules make it clear that there must be a direct relationship between the sponsor and the sponsored student. The new guidance also states that the Home Office will apply the following general principles to all arrangements to ensure that sponsors take their responsibilities seriously, and can fulfill their duties:
- an institution which teaches Tier 4 students must take responsibility for sponsoring them, and
- an institution or an umbrella organisation may not hold more than one Tier 4 licence.
The detail of the new arrangements can be found from page 20 onwards of document 1 of the new guidance and, unless exceptional arrangements as set out in the new Table 2 apply, all institutions must fall under one of the following categories of ‘sponsor types and licences’ outlined in the new Table 1.
Higher Education Institutions
The guidance confirms that an HEI should list on its Tier 4 licence all sites which are part of the HEI and that it will use to teach Tier 4 students, including any teaching hospitals, and any sites used by any joint venture entity set up to deliver higher education courses (but see exceptional arrangements in Table 2 below relating to short term joint ventures). With the exception of teaching hospitals, these sites must be fully integrated with broadly the same policies, procedures and regulations applying across the HEI in relation to Tier 4 students. There should be processes in place to ensure that this is delivered in practice in all sites.
The HEI must have central oversight of marketing and of the recruitment and the admission of non- EEA students across all of its sites.
The HEI must have the same processes in place to quality assure course delivery and to conduct student assessments across all of its sites.
Exceptional arrangements in Table 2 must also be listed on an HEI’s Tier 4 licence.
There are also new requirements in relation to overseas HEIs and these can be found on page 21 of the new guidance.
Publicly funded colleges
A publicly funded college should list all sites that it will use to teach Tier 4 students on its Tier 4 licence.
In relation to private providers the guidance confirms that a private provider should list all sites that that it will use to teach Tier 4 students on its Tier 4 licence.
An institution that does not fall into one of the other categories in either Table 1 or 2 is considered to be a private provider. Private providers linked to one another by common ownership or control must be grouped under a single Tier 4 licence, including where they are part of a franchise.
A private provider may only hold more than one licence if:
- it owns or controls one or more independent schools which hold separate Tier 4 licences; or
- UKVI agrees that one or more of the private provider’s sites is an embedded college offering pathway courses and the embedded college holds a separate Tier 4 licence (see Table 2).
In addition, the guidance confirms that where a private provider has more than one type of education institution on its licence, the institutions must have separate educational oversight and that grouping sites under a single licence should not prevent a private provider from putting effective policies and procedures in place at a local level across all sites in order to comply with its sponsorship duties, such as day-to-day student contact and attendance management.
An independent school should list on its Tier 4 licence all sites that it will use to teach Tier 4 students.
An independent school that is linked by common ownership or control to a private provider or one or more independent schools may be grouped with them under a single Tier 4 licence. Alternatively, an independent school may hold a separate Tier 4 licence.
Exceptional arrangements – Table 2
The new guidance sets out a number of exceptional arrangements that are not permitted to commence (in relation to new partnership models) until UKVI has considered and approved them. These include:
- Embedded colleges offering pathway courses (these can have their own licence or they can be listed as a site on the private provider’s licence but they cannot be listed on the HEI’s licence).
- Embedded colleges offering integrated programmes (these must be listed as an exceptional arrangement on the relevant HEI’s Tier 4 licence and students must be sponsored by the HEI).
- Embedded college set up as a joint venture (these must be listed as an exceptional arrangement on the relevant HEI’s Tier 4 licence and students must be sponsored by the HEI).
- Short term joint venture arrangement (these must be listed on the relevant HEI’s Tier 4 licence and students must be sponsored by the HEI).
Teaching Partnerships – Table 3
In addition to the new definitions of sponsor types and licences and partnership arrangements referred to above, the Home Office has provided detailed new rules on acceptable teaching partnerships for Tier 4 purposes.
These can be found from page 24 onwards of document 1 and include arrangements for pre-sessional courses between an HEI or an independent school and a private provider, HEI to HEI arrangements, arrangements between HEIs and publicly funded or private college, arrangements between publicly funded colleges and private colleges and arrangements between private providers.
Application process – sites, exceptional arrangements and teaching partnership
Before applying to UKVI sponsors must ensure that:
- appropriate contractual arrangements are in place;
- there is a ‘sufficient level of planning permission’;
- their educational oversight body has been notified of the new arrangements and any steps required by the body have been completed; and
- it has systems in place to ensure that it can meet its sponsorship duties.
Applications must be submitted via the SMS and the guidance states that these will be considered on a case by case basis. UKVI has the power to refuse applications in a number of circumstances including if the sponsor or sites/partners have failed to comply with the Immigration Rules or sponsor guidance in the past.
Paragraph 76 of the guidance (document 1) states that by mid-April 2015, all Tier 4 sponsors will be issued with a ‘Sites and Partnership form.’ This must be completed by 15 May 2015.
Sponsors will be required to provide information on their sites, proposed exceptional arrangements and teaching partnerships. They will also be required to demonstrate that these comply with the new conditions.
UKVI will consider those arrangements and decide whether or not they can be approved to continue pursuant to the new rules.
In the meantime, CAS can continue to be issued until 30 September 2014 in accordance with the guidance in force as at 1 December 2014. As from 1 October 2015, where the arrangement meets the new requirements, CAS must be assigned in accordance with the new rules as published on 4 March 2015.
The guidance confirms that in the case of HEIs with one or more sites that do not comply with the conditions listed in Table 1 (or with the exceptional arrangements), for example, a London campus that is not fully integrated, no CAS will be able to be issued after 1 October 2015 effectively bringing to an end such collaborations.
The guidance also confirms that students assigned a CAS on or before 30 September 2015 will not be affected by any change in the Tier 4 sponsor’s licence structure unless they apply to extend their studies. Any CAS assigned on or after 1 October 2015 must be in accordance with this guidance, and any immigration conditions given to students will be in accordance with these new requirements.
Action to take
This information provides only a brief outline of the new rules and sponsors should undertake an urgent and detailed review the new guidance to ascertain:
- if existing arrangements already meet the new rules; or
- the steps that need to be taken to ensure that they do meet the new rules (i.e further integration of systems, etc); or
- in cases where arrangements will fall outside the new system the steps that will need to be taken to end existing arrangement (including contractual requirements and time-frames).
Additional important changes
Other important changes introduced in the new guidance include:
- confirmation that educational oversight bodies must now assess the institution’s financial sustainability, management and governance as part of the educational oversight assessment;
- confirmation that a private provider must hold educational oversight for all of its sites if it has more than one site listed on its sponsor licence;
- confirmation that an independent school will be assessed on a discretionary basis for HTS purposes.
If your organisation requires legal advice on any of these issues, please contact us.