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Tier 4

This page explains the requirements you must meet if you want to get a licence to sponsor migrants under tier 4 of the points-based system.

  • Who can be a tier 4 sponsor?
  • What education providers must show
  • Inspection or auditing
  • Accreditation
  • Overseas higher education providers
  • Courses lasting six months or less - student visitors

Who can be a tier 4 sponsor?

To be a tier 4 sponsor, you must be an education provider that offers courses of study to students. The only exceptions are as follows:
  • The Foundation Programme Office is the sponsor of all migrants on the two-year Foundation Programme for postgraduate doctors and dentists.
  • Where the migrant's programme of study forms part of an overseas degree course, the prospective sponsor in the United Kingdom can be an organisation linked by common ownership or control to the overseas university. We will ask for proof of these links before we will consider granting a sponsor licence.

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What education providers must show

If you are an education provider and you want a licence to be a tier 4 sponsor, you must show that:
  • you have been inspected, audited or reviewed by an appropriate body (if you are subject to public review);
  • you hold valid accreditation from an appropriate body (if you are not subject to public review); or
  • you directly offer short-term 'study abroad' programmes in your own premises in the United Kingdom (if you are an overseas higher education provider).
See below for more information about these requirements.

Procedures are in place for our approved accreditation bodies to inform us promptly if your accreditation is removed, and to act quickly to check on education providers if our staff report concerns. If you need accreditation but you subsequently lose it, we will withdraw your licence.

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Inspection or auditing

If you are subject to the system of public reviews, you must show that you have been inspected or audited by:
  • the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (UK-wide);
  • the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted);
  • Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (Scotland);
  • Estyn (Wales);
  • the Education and Training Inspectorate (Northern Ireland); or
  • the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).

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Accreditation

If you are outside the system of public reviews, you must show that you hold valid accreditation from one of the following:
  • the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted);
  • Accreditation UK - a British Council scheme offering an accreditation service for English language schools;
  • the British Accreditation Council (BAC), which offers a general accreditation service covering a wide range of educational establishments and their courses;
  • the Accreditation Service for International Colleges (ASIC), which offers a general accreditation service covering a wide range of educational establishments and their courses;
  • the Accreditation Body for Language Services (ABLS), which offers accreditation for English language schools; or
  • the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) - for private QAA subscribers only.
  • the Church of England Ministry Division, which offers a quality assurance and accreditation service for institutions offering training for Christian ministry in the participating churches.
If you have been trading as an education provider for less than 18 months and you are in the process of applying for accreditation, we will accept a provisional accreditation (known as Stage 2) from one of these accreditation bodies, on the condition that you obtain full academic accreditation (Stage 3) within 12 months.

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Overseas higher education providers

If you are an overseas higher education provider, you do not need United Kingdom accreditation as long as the courses you offer in the United Kingdom are short-term 'study abroad' programmes provided directly by you in your own premises. Students for these courses must be:
  • enrolled in their home country;
  • coming to the United Kingdom for no more than 50% of the total length of their degree course; and
  • returning home to finish their degree course (which must be equivalent to a United Kingdom degree).
However, you will still need to apply for a tier 4 licence if any of your courses in the United Kingdom last more than six months and/or involve work placements, or if your students may want to do part-time work while they are here. When you apply for a licence, you will need to provide evidence that:
  • you hold overseas accreditation, which can be confirmed by the national agency UK NARIC, as a provider of degree programmes that are equivalent to United Kingdom degree-level qualifications; and
  • you only teach part of your higher education programmes in the United Kingdom (so that, for example, students are enrolled at the overseas university and study only part of their degree in the United Kingdom before returning overseas to finish their studies); and
  • you have full legal control of the premises you use. If you deliver your study abroad programme in your own premises in the United Kingdom, you must have full legal control of those premises and provide evidence of any ownership or lease agreement relating to them. If you rent or use classroom space from a third party to deliver the programme, that classroom space must be within an organisation that also holds a tier 4 sponsor licence - you must provide evidence of the facilities that you are renting or using, and evidence that you have full legal control of the offices you use in the United Kingdom to administer your study abroad programme.
If you are teaching full programmes to students enrolled full-time in the United Kingdom, you will need United Kingdom accreditation before you apply for your tier 4 licence. If you are delivering a 'study abroad' programme through a third party (such as a United Kingdom university), the third party will need United Kingdom accreditation before it can apply for a tier 4 licence.

The student visitor route (see below) will be appropriate for some study abroad students, provided that they:
  • will be coming to the United Kingdom for no more than six months; and
  • will not be undertaking a work placement as part of their United Kingdom studies; and
  • will not do part-time work while they are here.
If all your students will be using the student vistor route, outside the points-based system, they will need to have evidence of your overseas or United Kingdom accreditation when they seek to enter the United Kingdom - but you will not need to be a tier 4 sponsor.

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Courses lasting six months or less - student visitors

If you want to bring migrant students to the United Kingdom for courses lasting six months or less, they can use the 'student visitor' route rather than applying through the points-based system. For a migrant to be able to study with you as a student visitor, you must:
  • hold a tier 4 sponsor licence; or
  • hold accreditation from a body approved by the UK Border Agency (see above); or
  • be an overseas higher education provider with your own national accreditation and offering only part of your degree programmes, which are of an equivalent level to a United Kingdom degree, in the United Kingdom.
However, a migrant cannot be a student visitor if their course time spent in the United Kingdom includes a work placement - if this is the case, they must apply under tier 4 of the points-based system.

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