Design and Structure of Programmes and Programme Components

contact: Irenie Morley, Academic Programmes and Regulations Manager, Student and Registry Services


Programme design and approval

1. The Quality Assurance Agency [QAA] has published a suite of documents, which together form a Code of Practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education. One of the documents concerns programme design approval, monitoring and review and includes the following precept: Institutions should publish guidance, for use within the institution, on principles to be considered when programmes are designed.

[QAA Code of Practice, Section 7, Precept 5]

2. This Section provides such guidance and takes into account the development of programme specification, now included in the Programme Institution Questionnaire (PIQ) [see para. 5 below].

3. Prior to completing an on-line PIQ members of staff initiating new programmes  should consult colleagues in the Centre for the Advancement of  Learning for advice on programme design and colleagues in the eLearning Environments for advice on e-learning.

Programme approval

4. Within UCL, the Programme and Module Approval Steering Group (PMASG) of Academic Committee's (AC's) Education Committee (EdCom) scrutinises all new programme proposals and makes recommendations about their approval (also see 'Institution of a Proposed New Degree/Diploma/Certificate or New Programme Components - General policy and Guidelines'). Please note:

(i) The approval of the Department and Faculty must be obtained before UCL approval is sought; and

(ii) No programme or course can be offered at UCL until it has been approved by at least one external assessor (often the External Examiner) or, where appropriate, been subject to professional accreditation. For programmes with distinct vocational objectives, the views of prospective employers should also be sought (see also 'Institution of a Proposed New Degree/Diploma/Certificate or New Programme Components - General policy and Guidelines').

5. For each proposed programme, a PIQ should be completed which provides details on the aims and intended outcomes / objectives for the programme, as well as the proposed modes and criteria of assessment and the available resources.

Programme Specification

6. A template for the programme specification is included in the PIQ. The specification should provide a summary of the main features of the programme and the learning outcomes that a typical student might reasonably be expected to achieve and demonstrate if he/she takes full advantage of the learning opportunities that are provided.

Guidance on programme design

7. In designing programmes, and prior to the completion of the PIQ, consideration should be given to the following factors.

(i) the educational aims of the programme, including its intended learning outcomes and how these will be communicated to students, staff and external audiences;

(ii) the viability of offering the proposed programme based on projected student numbers and the resources available, taking into account the extent to which comparable provision in the subject area already exists and the anticipated student demand. In addition, consideration should be given to how the proposed programme complements the Departmental and UCL goals and mission;

(iii) the curriculum structure and the proposed length of the programme, as applicable to both full and part-time students, and the modes and criteria of assessment for each component of the programme and how these fit with UCL regulations;

(iv) the overall coherence and integrity of the programme [in terms of how the components link together to meet its purpose and objectives];

(v) as applicable, the entrance requirements, including both acceptable and unacceptable qualifications and experience;

(vi) the draft regulations for the programme, including whether any courses have pre-requisites, which courses must be passed, assessment rules and Scheme of Award if this is a variation on the UCL Harmonised Scheme;

(vii) the means by which the programme will be reviewed; and

(viii) the programme's position in relation to external reference points, including any relevant subject benchmark statements, national qualifications frameworks, and, where appropriate, the requirements of professional and statutory bodies and employers.

Additional notes

Statement of aims and learning outcomes:

8. The aims of a programme of study can be defined most simply and directly as the rationale which motivated the original design of the programme.

9. Learning outcomes can be viewed as a statement of the range of knowledge and abilities which a student may be expected to have acquired by the time of completing the programme. Learning outcomes should be clear and explicit and defined, where possible, in terms of key skills.

10. In defining a programme's aims and learning outcomes, consideration should be given to the level and the title of the final award. As appropriate, the learning outcomes should also be defined in terms of external reference points (i.e. subject benchmark statements and the qualifications framework).

11. The PIQ, by the inclusion of a programme specification template, prompts programme designers to define aims and learning outcomes in relation to the individual programme components and their methods of assessment in a format comprehensible to a range of audiences.

Definition of entrance requirements for degree programmes:

12. The entrance requirements for a programme should be defined in terms of its aims and learning outcomes. They should be drawn up on the basis of what qualifications/experience a student needs to achieve the leaning outcomes of a programme without undue difficulty.

13. For each taught Masters degree, the entrance requirements should be framed in terms both of acceptable entrance qualifications (including acceptable professional experience/qualifications alternative to the usual second class Honours degree) and of unacceptable entrance qualifications. When professional experience is acceptable as a substitute for a second class Honours degree, Departments must make clear what type and level of experience is acceptable, and the minimum length of acceptable experience.

Definition of unacceptable entrance requirements for taught Master's degree programmes:

14. Unacceptable qualifications in this context are those degree qualifications, which, although they might fulfil the general requirement for entry to a taught Masters degree programme, cannot be allowed for the programme in question. They would include such things as a qualification in Computer Science for a programme designed to introduce the subject to those new to it, or an MEng degree from UCL which was composed of a high proportion of courses also taught in the Master's programme applied for.

15. Criteria for defining unacceptable qualifications are consideration of factors such as the purpose of the degree and the principle that a student should not receive two awards for the same (or substantially the same) work.

Definition of programme component:

16. Each component should have a clearly defined syllabus and assessment methodology. All components should normally present an equal workload to the student, and the value of a component should be related to the proposed workload. The notional teaching time allocated to each element of the component should also be defined (number of lectures, number of field course hours, etc.).

17. In general, Departments designing new taught Masters programmes should observe the rule that Masters programmes should have not more than one third of their components (i.e. one third of their taught components, excluding the dissertation) in common with undergraduate programmes.

18. Where the aims and learning objectives for the programme require a greater proportion of components in common with undergraduate programmes, the justification for the requirement must be clearly stated at the time that the programme proposal is submitted.

Illustration of how components link to provide the complete degree:

19. For each programme it should be made clear which components are regarded as the mandatory core, the pathways that are permissible through the optional courses on offer, and what pathways are prohibited in order to maintain the overall coherence of the programme. The progression requirements, and consequences of failure in any component, should also be considered.


20. Detail should be provided on the PIQ of the weighting and form of assessment for each programme component and when the assessment will take place in the structure of the programme.

21. Programme components should include a component of continuous assessment either as homework problems, essays, associated practicals, or fieldwork, and this should be included as part of the final assessment of performance in the unit. In general, a course unit should not be assessed only on the results of unseen examinations.

22. Discussion sessions, problem-solving classes, oral presentation of work, teamwork, source material searches, etc., are all examples of active learning strategies, which should be included in programme design where appropriate.

23. Any strategy, which involves students furthering their own education by discovery of new facts, methods or skills, should be included as an integral part of the programme where possible.

Scheme of Award:

24. There must be a published Scheme of Award for every programme, which must conform to UCL regulations.

25. In the case of undergraduate programmes the UCL Harmonised Scheme of Award should be applied. See http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ras/acd_regs.

26. On Masters programmes, the pass mark at Masters level must be 50% in each element (with the possibility of up to 25% of the taught elements as a condoned pass between 40%-49%) and the dissertation must be passed at 50% in order for a degree to be awarded. A distinction may be awarded with at least an average of 70% overall and at least 70% in the dissertation.

Regular review, internal and external:

27. Each programme should be reviewed regularly (annually if possible) within the Department, and must be reviewed every five years through UCL procedures (see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/silva/academic-manual/part-7/augmented-am-procedure and http://www.ucl.ac.uk/silva/academic-manual/part-7/am-procedure.

Regulations and Information

28. The design and structure of programmes and programme components fall under the general regulations of the Academic Regulations for Students at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ras/acd_regs.

29. Pedagogic matters concerning the design and structure of programmes and programme components should be referred to the Departmental and Faculty Teaching Committees.

30. Matters concerning programme or programme component regulations should be referred to the Academic Programmes and Regulations Manager via academicservices@ucl.ac.uk

September 2013