Focus on Immigration – Tier 4

Please note that since this article has been published immigration guidance has changed. Please see our post UK NARIC’s Visas and Nationality Service launches on 6 April which contains more up-to-date information.


The reputation of the UK education system is world-renowned.

The UK boasts some of the most well respected universities, currently the UK has 32 of the top 200 universities in the world! Additionally, accredited qualifications gained at UK schools, colleges and universities are recognised across the globe and English is the language of business.

Just a handful of the reasons why coming to the UK to study might just be the best decision someone ever makes!

But how do potential students get here?

If they are from outside the European Union they will need to apply through Tier 4 of the Points Based System (PBS) for immigration to the UK. European Union citizens don’t need to use this route as they can apply in the same way as UK citizens.

Applying from outside the EU*

Under Tier 4 of the PBS there are two routes; Child and General. Tier 4 (Child) is for children between 4 and 17. Children between 4 and 15 may only be educated at independent fee paying schools. Tier 4 (General) is for those coming to the UK for post 16 education.

In both cases migrants will need to score 40 points: 30 points come from having a Certificate of Acceptance of Studies and 10 points from having enough money to cover the course fees and the monthly living costs (known as maintenance funds).

A Certificate of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) is issued by the admitting institute; these are also known as sponsors. A full list of the education providers that are sponsors can be found on the UK BA website.

There are three ratings for sponsors:

Highly Trusted Sponsors – a sponsor which can offer the widest range of courses.

Category A – a sponsor which has not fulfilled the requirements for Highly Trusted Sponsor status.

Category B – UK BA has had concerns about their ability to meet all of their sponsor duties or because they had interim accreditation from one of the previously approved accreditation bodies.

Once a course and place to study have been identified, potential students will need to satisfy the particular entry requirements. It is sensible to make sure that colleges and universities understand the level of qualifications used for entry and the best way of doing this is by using a Statement of Comparability.

Education Oversight*

Education oversight is the process by which an appropriate body undertakes a public review of an education establishment and their management of academic standards in order for the provider to achieve Highly Trusted Sponsor status.

There are a number of bodies which carry out this role:

  • Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (higher education institutions)
  • Ofsted (publically funded schools and colleges in England)
  • Education Scotland (all publically funded further education colleges and English language schools in Scotland)
  • Estyn (publically funded education and training providers in Wales)
  • Education and Training Inspectorate (publicly funded education and training providers in Northern Ireland)
  • Independent Schools Inspectorate (independent schools in England, British Schools Overseas, most of the private further education colleges and English language colleges in England and Wales)
  • Bridge Schools Inspectorate (further education colleges with a clear religious purpose) or
  • School Inspection Service (further education Montessori and Steiner providers).

It is important that potential students check the status of their institution, this can be done on the UK BA website.

English Language*

If a Tier 4 (General) student has had their CAS assigned after 21 April 2011 and they are enrolling on a Bachelor (QCF level 6 or equivalent level) course then they will need to demonstrate that they are competent to at least level B2 on CEFR.

If the student is studying for qualifications higher than GCSE, but lower than Bachelor level (QCF 3 – 5 or equivalent level) then they will need to demonstrate that they are competent to at least level B1 on CEFR.

There are a couple of ways in which students can demonstrate their ability:

  • coming from a majority English-speaking country
  • having successfully completed a secure English language test which has been mapped to the relevant level

Applying from within the EU*

EU citizens apply through the same channels as UK nationals; all applications for undergraduate courses should be made through UCAS and all other applications should be made directly with the provider, i.e. not using Tier 4 of the PBS.

Potential students who are non-UK nationals should check the UK BA website before applying.

How UK NARIC can help

Under the Points Based System schools, college and universities are under increased scrutiny from UK BA. As sponsors they have to carry out specific duties; these include demonstrating that their systems and processes make sure that they are admitting students who are willing and able to complete the particular course to which they have applied.

To make it easier for the admissions staff, potential students can use a Statement of Comparability to confirm the recognition of an overseas qualification and its comparable level in the UK.*

Tim Buttress, January 2012


*Please check the Home Office website to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information.

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