There may be better things to receive than a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), but the number of requests made to educational institutions for disclosure of their Tier 4 Basic Compliance Assessment (BCA) information is on the rise. When clients start receiving these requests, experience tells us that UKVI and similar institutions should expect the same.
Members of the press and other interested parties will be aware that every Tier 4 sponsor is required to undergo a BCA each year, on completion of which they receive a written outcome containing details of that institution’s refusal, enrolment and course completion rates. This information has the potential to be of great interest to the public (or the readership!), so institutions may encounter requests to disclose it under the FOIA.
However, disclosure of this information, even if an institution is well within prescribed limits for refusal, enrolment and course completion, risks causing reputational damage and attracting unwanted scrutiny of their Tier 4 processes. In light of this, when faced with a request for disclosure of BCA documentation, we are of the view that institutions can refuse both to confirm or deny whether they hold the information requested under Part II, Section 43 (3) of the FOIA, and refuse to provide it, under Part II, Section 43 (2), on the grounds that to do so would prejudice the commercial interests of the institution.
It should be noted that although this exemption allows institutions to refuse such requests altogether in most cases, in limited circumstances it has the potential to be overruled, for example if the public interest in disclosure of a certain report outweighs the reputational damage involved. The arguments involved here are complex and highly fact-specific and the timeframe in which an institution is expected to respond is inflexible. At this stage Tier 4 licence holders may benefit from legal advice, regardless of whether they are inclined to disclose or withhold the information.