UKVI have taken the unusual step of consulting with education sector stakeholder groups and representative bodies regarding the proposed changes to the Tier 4 guidance relating to branch & partnership status. Updated guidance is expected to be issued in the next few weeks and we will provide a further briefing confirming the changes.

The Migration Policy Unit have reviewed the sponsor licensing arrangements and partnerships under Tier 4 in order to ensure that there continues to be a direct relationship between a sponsor and a migrant student, and that the Tier 4 sponsorship system is operating as effectively as possible.

UKVI will apply the following guiding principles to all arrangements to ensure that sponsors are effectively held to account:

  • an institution which teaches Tier 4 students takes responsibility for sponsoring them, and 
  • an institution may not hold more then one sponsor licence.      

Corporate arrangements or partnerships that aim to circumvent UKVI’s rules and guidance will be considered to be abuse of the sponsorship system, with the sponsor potentially having its licence revoked.

The key changes expected in relation to sites and partnerships are set out below. It would appear that the following are likely to be the only circumstances in which Tier 4 sponsors are able to collaborate with others under the terms of their licence.

Sites

HEI and Publicly Funded College – A HEI should list all campuses that are wholly owned by it on its Tier 4 licence. These campuses should be fully integrated with broadly consistent policies and procedures across the HEI. UKVI would expect to see processes in place to ensure this is delivered in practice in all campuses. The HEI must have central oversight of recruitment and admission of Tier 4 migrants and must ensure quality course delivery across all of its campuses.

Private provider -  These should list all sites that are wholly owned by it and that it will use to teach Tier 4 students. Private providers linked by common ownership or control must be grouped under a single Tier 4 licence and cannot hold separate licences unless they are a group of independent schools. Exceptional arrangements apply to a private provider that is an embedded college or a joint venture. Where either of these circumstances apply, the private provider’s site must be listed on the relevant HEI’s Tier 4 licence and the private provider may not hold a Tier 4 licence for that site. Any students wishing to study at these sites must be sponsored by the HEI. An embedded college and a joint venture are defined separately in the draft guidance.     

Independent fee paying school - These should list all sites that are wholly owned by it and that it will use to teach Tier 4 students. A group of these schools linked by common ownership or control may be grouped under a single Tier 4 licence or each school may hold a separate Tier 4 licence.

Teaching partnerships

If you are a HEI, the draft guidance provides for two circumstances as to when you can have a partnership arrangement i) partnership to deliver pre-sessional courses, and ii) partnership with a publicly funded college or private provider to deliver courses.

Where the HEI is in a partnership to deliver pre-sessional courses, the partner provider is not required to have its own Tier 4 licence.

In certain circumstances the partner institution is able to assign a CAS to cover both a pre-sessional and main degree course. In other circumstances a separate CAS for the pre-sessional course must be assigned.

Where the HEI is in partnership with a publicly funded college or private provider to deliver courses which are awarded by the HEI, both the HEI and the partner institution must hold Tier 4 licences with HTS status. Where the majority of the course is taught by the HEI at one of its sites, the HEI must sponsor the student. In all other circumstances, the publicly funded college or private provider must sponsor the student.

Non-teaching partnerships                                        

The draft guidance also sets out other types of partnership arrangements which include where there is a partnership to enable students to undertake off-site research for longer than two weeks, and where there is a partnership to enable students to undertake a work placement.

General conditions for including a site or teaching partnership on a Tier 4 licence

A Tier 4 sponsor must meet the following conditions:

  • There must be a contractual agreement to teach students in the manner specified, if more than one legal entity is involved in the arrangement.
  • There must be a sufficient level of planning permission for any site involved, and the Tier 4 sponsor must be able to specify how they plan to populate the site.
  • The Tier 4 sponsor must have notified its educational oversight body of its plans, and must ensure that any partnership organisation meets the educational oversight requirements set out in the guidance.
  • The Tier 4 sponsor must have systems in place to ensure it can continue to meet its sponsor duties in respect of students it would like to teach at the site or under the partnership.

As part of an application, UKVI will assess whether the Tier 4 sponsor can show that it meets the new conditions as set out in this briefing, and that it has previously complied with the sponsor guidance and immigration rules. Until the application has been granted, the Tier 4 sponsor may not teach any Tier 4 students at the site or assign CAS for Tier 4 students to be taught at the site; or allow any Tier 4 students to study at the partner institution’s site.

Arrangements for existing Tier 4 sponsors with Branches and Partnerships

The types of partnerships previously permitted continue under the draft guidance, but different requirements as to how they operate and are recorded now apply:

By 1 April 2015, all existing Tier 4 sponsors must have submitted a ‘Sites and Partnerships form’ to include:

  •  information on the Tier 4 sponsor’s sites and partnerships; and
  • how the Tier 4 sponsor intends to comply with the new general and specific conditions by 1 October 2015.

Existing Tier 4 sponsors do not need to apply to UKVI to add sites or partnerships to their Tier 4 licence if the site or partnership was listed on their Tier 4 licence on 1 December 2014. However, they must record this information in the new ‘Sites and Partnerships’ form.

Existing Tier 4 sponsors may continue to assign CAS in accordance with the Tier 4 guidance in force on 1 December 2014, as the new provisions will apply to existing Tier 4 sponsors from 1 October 2015.