Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square: Tier 4 restrictions for London Campuses, branches & Partnerships

In the latest version of the Tier 4 Guidance, published on 4 March 2015, the UKVI published what it no doubt hopes (quite possibly forlornly) is the last word on the vexed issue of sites, branches & partnerships that has featured so highly in its enforcement activity in the HE sector.

A quick recap: the introduction of tighter rules for private providers to sponsor international students, including the complete ban on working rights for students at such providers, created an incentive for private providers to find ways of "piggybacking" on the sponsorship rights held by HEIs. The range of these partnerships was broad and creative, and until a couple of years ago the UKVI and its predecessor, UKBA, was relatively tolerant towards partnerships.

Since then, the UKVI has come to regard many partnerships as essentially vehicles for the circumvention of these differentiated rules and hence the latest iteration of the almost perpetually "under construction" Tier 4 sponsor guidance. The guidance solemnly reiterates the guiding principle that "an institution which teaches Tier 4 students must take responsibility for sponsoring them." It sets out requirements that it hopes will give effect this principle and warns that any arrangement that does not meet these requirements needs to be discussed in advance with UKVI. If the proposed arrangement is designed to circumvent the Immigration Rules or guidance, the UKVI may take action against both Sponsor and proposed partner.

So what are the new requirements?

HEIs will have to list on their Tier 4 licences all sites which are part of the HEI and which it uses to teach Tier 4 students, including any sites used by joint venture entities provided these are "fully integrated" with the same policies, procedures and regulations, and processes to ensure compliance. Central oversight of marketing, recruitment, and admissions must rest with the HEI. Quality assurance and student assessment must be the same across all sites.

FE colleges are expected to list all the sites at which they teach Tier 4 students.

Private providers within a group linked by common ownership or control are generally expected to be listed on a single Tier 4 licence, which may be a reflection of how difficult UKVI has found it to navigate the complexities of some corporate groups.

There are some exceptions for embedded colleges and joint ventures delivering pathway and integrated programmes, provided that in the case of joint ventures, these are of at least 10 years duration and with robust shared governance and processes.

All teaching partnerships must be listed on sponsor licences, even where the other party is itself a sponsor, and irrespective of which sponsor is issuing the CAS. The only partnership where one party is permitted not to have a Tier 4 Licence is one for pre-sessional courses. In all other cases, the sponsor delivering the majority of the teaching  must issue the CAS.

Institutions wishing to open a new site need to tell their educational oversight body and take any action they require, notifying and updating UKVI.

There are transitional arrangements for existing sites and partnerships until 30 September 2015, by which stage all arrangements will need to comply with this version of the guidance (assuming of course there are no further changes before then). Institutions are therefore well advised to review all site, branch and partner arrangements to make any changes ahead of that date.

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1332
M: 07909 925946
F: 0800 763 1732
International DD: +44 870 763 1332

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