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Programme approval

The Academic Office is responsible for standards assurance arrangements in respect of the initial approval and revalidation of the University's award-bearing programmes of study. Evaluation procedures have been developed to ensure that courses and undergraduate Honours subjects are of a type and quality consistent with the University's overall objectives and that their aims, organisation, content, teaching, learning and assessment methods, and the resources available to support them are appropriate. New proposals are formally validated by evaluation panels, comprising internal and external members. The Academic Office supports this activity through:

  • servicing the Academic Planning Advisory Group
  • establishment and servicing of evaluation panels
  • scrutiny of documentation
  • provision of reports
  • monitoring of the implementation of conditions of approval

The Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice offers support to teams in preparing for evaluation and revalidation.

At the end of the period of approval, courses and subjects are revalidated, generally in groupings of cognate provision (Revalidation).

The schedule of evaluation and revalidation for 2018/19 is available here.

Special arrangements may be made to streamline the revalidation of courses which carry professional, statutory or regulatory body recognition or approval.  A joint meeting is held wherever possible.

University provision: Approval for Planning

The Faculty submits an outline proposal for a new or substantially revised course or undergraduate subject strand using form CA1 (CMS) to the Academic Planning Advisory Group (APAG).  This should include an outline business case and proposals for fully online courses should be accompanied by a Digital Learning Resource Agreement made with the Access, Digital and Distributed Learning department. (Where a new course derives substantially from existing provision, an evaluation panel may not be required - see CA1 supplement.)

APAG reviews the proposal in the context of the University’s Strategic  Plan and Learning and Teaching Strategy, and the academic courses and  student numbers plan (the Academic Plan), paying particular attention to  level, location, demand and viability, employment prospects, proposed  intake size and resource needs.  APAG makes a recommendation to the  Academic Standards and Quality Enhancement Committee (authority  delegated by Senate) on whether planning should proceed, and  whether the proposal should be submitted to an evaluation panel or might  be approved on the basis of the CA1 submission.

Guidelines on minimum and maximum cohort sizes were approved by the Academic Standards and Quality Enhancement Committee in October 2018.

APAG must have endorsed the proposal to allow it to be advertised or its description included in the appropriate prospectus or other promotional material with its provisional status clearly indicated.

Evaluation

If  endorsed, arrangements for evaluation are made through a meeting with an evaluation panel which includes external subject experts.  The purpose of the  evaluation is to ensure that for  each award-bearing course or undergraduate Honours subject strand  contributing to a degree award:

  • it accords with the University’s purpose and core strategic aims;
  • the academic structure and content are appropriate;
  • the proposed award is in accordance with the University’s scheme of qualifications, and that the programme conforms to the modular structure and credit framework of the University, and the University’s general regulations for the award in question;
  • the standard and student workload are comparable with those of other programmes leading to the same award nationally;
  • the available resources are sufficient to enable its aims and objectives to be met;
  • there is evidence of reasonable employment and progression opportunities.

Further information on the approval process for programmes to be offered by the University is contained in section C of the Programme Approval, Management and Review Handbook, which includes guidance on benchmark standards and University expectations. It is illustrated in the flow chart.  An aide memoire for planning teams and evaluation teams is available here.

2017/18 reports of evaluation panels are available here.

The resources of the Viewpoints project offer user-friendly, reflective tools for staff, promoting and enhancing good curriculum design - http://wiki.ulster.ac.uk/display/VPR/Home and viewpointsproject.blogspot.co.uk/.

CHERP and the office for Digital Learning support course teams.

Credit-Bearing Modules

Proposals for credit-bearing short course modules are approved by the Faculty.  Approval of short course modules at Level 3 or 4 which may contribute to the Certificate of Personal and Professional Development and at Level 7 for the Postgraduate Certificate of Professional Development framework should be notified through the CA3 process. For other modules a CA9 form is used (see Short Courses).

External Provision

The University enters into partnership arrangements with other educational institutions for the delivery of courses leading to its awards (see Collaborative Provision).  There is a separate institutional approval process managed by Quality Enhancement.  An institution  and the associated University Faculty submit an outline proposal for a new course using form CA2, or, for franchised courses, CA2A.  This, together with the Faculty's Assessment, is considered by the Academic Planning Advisory Group.

Guidelines on minimum and maximum cohort sizes were approved by the Academic Standards and Quality Enhancement Committee in October 2018.

If endorsed by the Academic Standards and Quality Enhancement Committee, the proposal is formally evaluated and the institution considered for recognition to offer the course under the relevant University Ordinance, by a panel including external subject experts. Courses may be offered by networks of partners.

Students of validated courses are not registered students of the University but have the status of 'Associate Students'.  Students of franchised courses are full members of the University. Further information on the course approval process is given in Part III, Section I and Part IV, Section P of the Partnership Handbook.

An aide memoire for planning teams and panels is available here.  The process is illustrated in this flow chart. 2017/18 reports of evaluation panels are available here.

Procedures for the monitoring of Library and IT resources in partner institutions are available here.

Joint Provision, Contributions by other Institutions (Outcentre), Articulation

The University may develop, in partnership with other institutions:

  • a programme which is jointly planned and delivered with another institution which also has authority to award the associated qualification, directly or through another body;
  • a University programme where a module or modules are contributed by another institution (termed an outcentre). This may be on or off campus.  The accreditation of the CPD of employers is a sub-set of outcentre activity;
  • a University programme which the University delivers, in whole or in part, at an outcentre.

In addition, the University may formally recognise the qualification of another institution as meeting part of the requirements of a University course, thus enabling admission with advanced standing.  This is termed 'articulation'. Further information on procedures and model agreements are contained in Parts V - VII of the Partnership Handbook.

Joint Programme

A CA1 proposal is submitted to the Academic Planning Advisory Group and a formal evaluation undertaken by a panel which includes external subject experts, where possible jointly with the partner institution.  (An institutional-level investigation of the partner may be carried out.)  A formal agreement is signed with the partner institution.  The Partnership Handbook sets out principles for the processes of student application, admission and registration, appeals and fees.  Students are enrolled in both institutions and a joint board of examiners (including external examiners) agrees their results and progress.  The final award may be an award of either institution or a joint award, the latter with a specially designed parchment.

Contribution by another institution to a University programme

An outside body may contribute one or more modules to a University programme.  This contribution is made outside the University, at the premises of the institution, which is termed an 'outcentre'.

Arrangements are approved through initial evaluation, the CA3 revision process or revalidation.  An institutional-level investigation may be carried out.  Students are students of the University and staff of the outcentre are accorded Recognised Teacher status, with membership of the University course committee and board of examiners, and the University is responsible for the quality of provision.  Financial arrangements are made to reimburse the institution for its costs.  An agreement is signed with the institution.

A CPD course offered by an employer may be given credit within the University's credit framework and approved as a 'sub-set' of the outcentre model.  The Centre for Flexible and Continuing Education provides advice and supports the development of a business plan and contract.  This arrangement is distinct from the credit-rating of external courses.

University Programmes delivered by University Staff off-campus

In some cases only the facilities of another institution are used as a University outcentre.  Arrangements are approved through initial evaluation, CA3 revision or revalidation.  Students are students of the University.  An agreement is drawn up with the institution to provide access to resources and pay the institution for the use of its facilities.

Credit Rating of External Courses

External organisations may seek to have their own short courses assigned academic credit by the University.  This service may be offered at a Faculty’s discretion (if it has the academic expertise in the subject area concerned).  Procedures have been approved for the School of Nursing (see Academic Office website, Policies, under credit rating) and faculties should model their own arrangement on these.  The Faculty may make a charge for this service.

The external organisation presents its course in a format modelled on the University’s standard module description and provides information on resources, quality assurance and external examination to a school/Faculty panel.  That panel, which seeks external views, confirms an academic credit level and volume in accordance with the University’s Qualification and Credit Framework, and sets a period of validity, at the end of which the course may be re-presented for continuing endorsement.

The University and Faculty are not responsible for ongoing quality assurance nor for records of participants in the course.  The external organisation issues its own statements of successful completion.  The Faculty advises on any wording to be used to indicate its endorsement of the standard of the course. (Alternatively the University may assume ongoing responsibility through the 'outcentre' model (above).

The Faculty advises on possible progression routes to courses at the University.

Accreditation by Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies

Joint evaluation/revalidation and accreditation arrangements are developed wherever possible.  For separate accreditation visits, the Quality Management and Audit Unit provides central support to Faculties.  The Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) is to be informed of such visits as soon as possible.  The report from the visit is considered by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor together with a response and action plan.  The Quality Management and Audit Unit requires a summary statement of outcomes for the Academic Standards and Quality Enhancement Committee.

The University has agreed that all communications with professional, statutory and regulatory bodies which relate to University matters, ie courses and activities, are to be agreed in advance in conjunction with the Executive Dean or Associate Dean of the Faculty, through the (Associate) Head of School.  On some occasions the Dean may delegate the responsibility to the Head of School.

'Communications' are defined as including letters, emails, telephone calls and representing the University at meetings.  'Courses' refer to all pre-registration and post-registration courses, undergraduate and postgraduate courses.  Courses leading to services and individual accreditation of field work educators/clinical supervisors are also included.  'Activities' include, but are not limited to, course provision and accreditation, resources, registration, staffing, annual returns, clinical placements, applications for funding and research activity of staff and postgraduate students.

Communications with relevant professional, statutory and regulatory bodies on issues of a personal nature eg with regard to personal registration, membership, continuing professional development do not require prior approval or discussion with the (Associate) Dean or Head of School.

Withdrawal and Suspension

Notification of a decision to withdraw a course or subject is made using form CA5 (CMS) (internal)  or CA5 (external) and reported to Academic Standards and Quality Enhancement Committee and Academic Planning Advisory Group.  The campus co-ordinating group is notified if applicable.  Form CA5b is available for partner institutions to notify the University of a decision to suspend intake to a course.  (This matter is dealt with through the academic planning process for the University's own provision.)

A Faculty or partner institution may decide to close or suspend a course for a number of reasons, including insufficient demand, limited resources to support delivery or strategic developments in the Faculty’s academic planning.  Where a course has current applicants or students, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) should be consulted.

The course continues to be part of the University’s ongoing annual monitoring processes, but is not subject to revalidation.  A course which is not presented for revalidation is deemed withdrawn.

Steps to be taken by Faculties and Admissions in conjunction with the Marketing Unit when a course is withdrawn (or suspended) are:

  • prospective and current students should be informed as soon as practicable;
  • applicants should be advised of suitable alternatives in the University or, where these do not exist, of suitable alternatives elsewhere if known. UCAS procedures should be followed for full-time undergraduate courses;
  • the course should continue to be delivered to current students in accordance with the approved curriculum and regulations (including first sit and resit opportunities).  In certain circumstances the range of modules available may be reduced;
  • current students should be consulted about any proposed changes to the form of delivery, and the CA3 process used to notify the University;
  • requests for leave of absence for first year students, for whom no cohort would exist to rejoin, should not normally be granted;
  • publicity and marketing material should be updated.

In certain exceptional circumstances, for example where a strategic decision is made to close a subject area, transfer to another institution may be negotiated or facilitated by the University.