In July 2011 the Home Office confirmed details of new arrangements for the 'educational oversight' of private colleges which sponsor international students. These arrangements are a key part of the drive to improve standards of educational quality and immigration compliance which lies at the heart of the reforms to Tier 4 of the points based system.
This page explains the arrangements which will be in place after 2012 for those private education providers who are subject to the educational oversight regime introduced in 2011. In summary:
- sponsors will be subject to full assessments every 4 years;
- there will be intermediate 'health check' assessments, with the frequency dependent on the outcome of their previous inspection; and
- full assessments will be triggered at an earlier stage than the normal 4-year cycle if circumstances change (see below) or if health checks reveal any issues to be addressed.
In addition, there will be a 3 month window this year for new applications for educational oversight from private education providers. If a provider successfully obtains educational oversight they will then be able to apply to join the Tier 4 sponsor register.
Under our educational oversight arrangements, all Tier 4 sponsors are required to satisfactorily pass an assessment by one of the 8 independent bodies with an existing role in the formal regulation of education in the UK. The following designated bodies provide oversight to privately-funded colleges offering higher and further education and English language courses:
- the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education;
- Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (Scotland);
- the Education and Training Inspectorate (Northern Ireland);
- the Independent Schools Inspectorate;
- the School Inspection Service; and
- the Bridge Schools Inspectorate.
This page explains in broad terms the educational oversight requirements for privately-funded institutions who wish to remain on, or join, the Tier 4 sponsor register. For detailed information on how these arrangements will apply in practice, please visit the relevant body's website.
Publicly-funded providers and other institutions that have a current and satisfactory full inspection, review or audit from the appropriate designated body under the system of public reviews will continue to meet the educational oversight requirements.
Windows for new applications
Privately-funded colleges in England and Wales who want to obtain educational oversight as part of an application to join the Tier 4 sponsor register will be able to do so between 23 July and 22 October 2012. Privately-funded colleges in Scotland will be able to apply between 3 September and 5 November 2012. Providers in Northern Ireland should consult the Education and Training Inspectorate Northern Ireland on the window for applications.
The Home Office has agreed with the oversight bodies that these windows will be time-limited to enable them to plan their assessment schedules for the coming year. New applicants must have established a track record of at least 1 year of teaching before applying for educational oversight.
Full assessments of new applicants will begin in 2013, and will start the sponsor's 4-year educational oversight cycle. This process will then repeat annually to allow new sponsors to join the register.
Four-year assessment cycle for privately-funded sponsors
Privately-funded colleges will be required to undergo a 4-year assessment cycle. All those who applied to a designated educational oversight body by the September 2011 deadline (or by 28 May 2012 for colleges in Scotland) will receive an initial full assessment by the end of 2012, beginning their 4-year cycle. These sponsors will next be required to undergo a full assessment in 2016 and every fourth year thereafter (unless there is a material change in circumstances - see below).
In addition to full assessments every 4 years, educational oversight bodies will now introduce risk-based interim health checks. Health checks will be 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 bodies on a cost-recovery basis. The educational oversight bodies will determine the notice given for the health check visit, but they may be carried out without notice or at short notice. Each educational oversight body will make available a report of every health check on their website.
All privately-funded colleges 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 the sponsor meets the highest educational standards. This means that in this first 4-year cycle, sponsors deemed to be performing well in 2013 will not undergo a further health check until 2015.
If the privately-funded sponsor no longer meets acceptable standards they will fail the health check. 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 existing 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. The meaning of 'legacy sponsor' is set out in the Tier 4 sponsor guidance.
The educational oversight bodies will retain the discretion to require a full assessment and/or health check at any time if they consider the circumstances warrant it.
You should also refer to the diagram showing the 4-year assessment cycle for existing and new sponsors (see related documents).
Material change in circumstances
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 the 4-year cycle. These changes are likely to include a significant and sudden increase in student numbers (international and/or EU/EEA), 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.
Other changes might be considered as part of the next scheduled health check. These might include significant increases in premises, a change of proprietor and major changes in teaching staff and accommodation arrangements for students.
A failure to report a material change of circumstances may be regarded by the agency as a failure of sponsor duties.