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Academic Progression and Time Limits

The Royal College of Art (RCA) is a recognised immigration sponsor under Tier 4 of the Points Based system and as such is required to ensure that all students meet the requirements as outlined by the Tier 4 Sponsor Guidance. This means that before assigning a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) the College needs to be certain that prospective students meet certain Home Office requirements. These requirements include, evidencing 'academic progression' and ensuring that prospective students have sufficient time to complete the course within the Home Office time limits on studying in the UK. 

If a student does not meet the requirements the RCA will be unable to issue a CAS. Failure to comply with the above requirements could result in the RCA's sponsor licence being suspended or revoked. 

Academic Progression

In 2011 the Home Office introduced a new rule that requires all Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) assigned by a Higher Education Institution (HEI) to confirm that the prospective student is making academic progression with the new course of study.

In order to show academic progression the new course should normally be above the level of the previous course for which permission to stay in the UK as a student was granted (ie, progressing from a BA to a Masters). However, if the new course is at the same level as the previous course, it may exceptionally be considered to represent academic progression. If you wish to study a course at the RCA which is at the same level as your current course, you are advised to contact Student Support for further advice.


You are not required to demonstrate academic progression in the following circumstances:

  • you are making a Tier 4 (General) application from overseas
  • you are making a first application to complete an existing course commenced at a Tier 4 sponsor that had its license revoked
  • you are applying to re-sit an examination or repeat a course module
  • you are applying to complete the PhD or other doctoral qualification for which you were last given Tier 4 or student leave (including where you are completing the qualification at a new sponsor).

Time limits for studying in the UK

What is the five-year study limit and academic progression, and how will it affect me?

In April 2012 the Home Office introduced limits on how long students could study in the UK at degree level and above. If you wish to apply for a Tier 4 visa to study at the RCA, the Tier 4 application must lead to you spending no more than five years (60 months) studying in the UK, at degree level.

When calculating the five years you should include any time given before the course start date (maximum one month) and after the course end date (maximum four months).

The College is not able to issue a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) if study at the College will take the individual beyond the maximum time allowed.


There are some exemptions to the five-year cap:

  • If you are applying to study a Master's at the RCA and the five-year cap will prevent you from completing a fifth year of academic study at degree level. In these cases, the cap is extended to five years and 11 months.
  • If you have completed a four-year undergraduate degree and wish to undertake a Master's at the RCA, the cap is extended to six years. In cases where the cap would prevent the completion of a sixth year of academic study, it is extended to six years and 11 months.
  • If you are applying to study for or continuing a course in Architecture this period of study will be exempt from the limit. It is important to note that if you have previously been granted leave to study Architecture and your new application will be for a different course, then the previous study will be included in the new time limit calculations.
  • If you are applying to study a PhD or one of the postgraduate research courses listed in Annex 4 of the Tier 4 Policy Guidance at the RCA, then there is no time limit while you are studying that course.
  • If you have already completed a PhD or one of the postgraduate research courses listed in Annex 4 of the Tier 4 Policy Guidance, any new Tier 4 application is limited to eight years. This does not include time spent on the Tier 4 Doctoral Extension Scheme (DES).

There are some limited exceptions to the five-year limit which are as follows:

How will UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) calculate the duration of my study?

The UKVI will consider how much leave you have already received to study a 'degree level' course – on a Tier 4 (General) visa or an old style Student Visa if you studied in the UK before 2009 - and add the length of leave that you will receive if your visa application for the course you wish to pursue is granted. They will base their calculation on the 'valid from' date and the 'valid until' date of each period of leave. The UKVI will count time in months, with individual days rounded upwards or downwards to the nearest month. Dates falling on the middle day of the month will be rounded downwards. If you have two visas with an overlapping period, the overlapping period will not be double-counted.

When calculating the five-year study period caseworkers will not include any time spent in the UK as a Tier 4 (Child) Student or Foundation degree ( below NQF level 6), or any time spent in the UK as a Tier 4 (General) Student aged 16 or 17 years.

Study undertaken on any other non-Tier 4 visa which permits study, such as a Points Based System Dependant visas, or Short Term Student Visa, will not be included in the study calculation. However, periods of leave granted but not spent studying (for example, if you withdrew before completion) will be included until the date your visa was curtailed (if it was ever curtailed).

Calculating your time on a student visa in the UK:

You will need to refer to a few documents to get an accurate calculation. 

  • Your Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) letter from your university
  • The UK entry sticker in your passport
  • Your student visa (this may be in the form of an old style sticker in your passport on a Biometric Residence Permit card)

If you want to calculate the duration of your UK study we suggest that you use the 'calculate time between two dates' function on with the help of the examples below.

The time limit on a Tier 4 visa at degree level is five years (60 months), but a concession is granted if the five-year cap will prevent you from completing a fifth year of academic study at degree level. *In this instance, the time limit is five years and 11 months (or 71 months in total). 


Your undergraduate course at a UK university commenced on 22 September 2014 and finished on 16 June 2017. UKVI will usually allow a student to enter the UK one month before the start of the course and UKVI ordinarily grant four months of 'wrap up time' after an undergraduate course. Total time granted on a student visa is 38 months.

Scenario 1:

If you want to study a 15-month Master's Programme commencing 11 September 2017 and finishes on 14 December 2018. The total time granted on a Tier 4 visa will be 19 months.

38 months + 19 months =  57 months

Scenario 2:

If you want to study a two-year Master's Programme commencing on 2 October 2017 and finishes on 28 June 2019. The total time granted on a student visa will be 25 months.

38 months + 25 months = *63 months

Where a student will be unable to finish a new course within these time limits (71 months) a CAS will not be issued. Time limits are calculated based upon the length of the visa issued not the length of the course itself.

If you have any queries at all about the above please contact [email protected]