Extended Educational Oversight Arrangements for Tier 4 Privately-Funded Sponsors

In July 2011 the UK Border Agency (“UKBA”) confirmed details of new arrangements for the “educational oversight” of privately-funded education providers who sponsor international students.  This required these providers to apply to a designated educational oversight body by the appropriate date.

UKBA has now issued a press release explaining the arrangements which will be in place after 2012 for those privately-funded education providers who are subject to the educational oversight regime introduced in 2011 and also a 3 month window for new applications for educational oversight from privately-funded education providers.

4 Year Assessment Cycle for Privately-Funded Sponsors

Privately-funded sponsors will be required to undergo a 4 year assessment cycle.  All those sponsors who applied to a designated educational oversight body by the appropriate deadline will, according to UKBA, receive an initial full assessment by the end of 2012 and this will begin their 4 year cycle.  These sponsors will next be required to undergo a full assessment in 2016 and every fourth year thereafter.  There is an exception where there is a material change in circumstances.

The press release states that the educational oversight bodies will provide details of the specific material changes which will lead to sponsors being required to undergo an early full assessment part way through their 4 year cycle, but it states that these changes are likely to include a significant sudden increase in student numbers, major changes in course provision (including changes to awarding bodies or organisations) and mergers or acquisitions of a new branch that is planned to be included in the existing sponsorship arrangement.

Risk-Based Interim Health Checks

In addition to full assessments every 4 years, educational oversight bodies will introduce risk-based interim health checks.  These are described as a light-touch, shortened version of a full assessment with the format devised by each of the individual oversight bodies.  They are designed to ensure educational standards and quality are being maintained throughout the 4 year cycle without imposing the burden of a full assessment.  The fees for health checks will be set by the educational oversight body who will also determine the notice given for the health check visit, but that they may be carried out without notice or at short notice.

All privately-funded sponsors assessed in 2012 will be required to undergo an initial health check in 2013 to ensure that standards remain on track.  Further health checks will take place annually but may be made on a 2 year cycle if the relevant oversight body judges that the sponsor meets the highest educational standards.

If the privately-funded sponsor no longer meets acceptable standards they will fail the health check.  This means that their confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) allocation will be frozen and they will be required to submit within 30 days an action plan to remedy deficiencies.  During this time, the sponsor will be unable to sponsor any new international students but they can continue to sponsor students who are already studying with them.  If any students need to extend their leave in order to complete their current course, the sponsor can apply for a CAS to assign to them using the sponsorship management system.

The sponsor will then be given the option of applying for a full assessment within a short period of time (maximum 6 months) which will re-start their 4 year assessment cycle.  Those who pass the full assessment will have their CAS allocation reassigned.  Those who fail, or choose not to apply, will be made legacy sponsors which means their CAS allocation will be set to zero and they will not be allowed to sponsor any new students but can continue to sponsor students who are already studying until either they finish their course or the sponsor licence expires, whichever happens first.

New Applications

Privately-funded sponsors who want to obtain educational oversight as part of an application to join the tier 4 sponsor register will be able to do so as long as they apply within a designated window.  For privately-funded providers based in England or Wales this is between 23 July and 22 October 2012, for those in Scotland it is between 3 September and 5 November 2012, while providers in Northern Ireland should consult the Education and Training Inspectorate Northern Ireland on the window for applications.

These windows will be time-limited to enable the oversight bodies to plan their assessment schedules for the coming year.  New applicants must have an established track record of at least 1 year of teaching before applying for educational oversight.  Full assessment of new applicants will begin in 2013 and will start the sponsor’s 4 year educational oversight cycle.

The process will then be repeated annually to allow new sponsors to apply to join the register.

Comment

This development will be relevant to privately-funded sponsors who have already applied for educational oversight as it gives details of the inspection regime which will apply.  Any privately-funded providers who have not applied for educational oversight by the previous timescales are now given an opportunity, on an annual basis, to make an application to join the register.