Programme Specifications Guidance


The programme specification outlines a programme’s aims, learning outcomes, and modules, in addition to providing other important information.

This page provides guidance for completing the programme specification form, including further information about answering questions relating to statements and frameworks produced by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). The guidance below is arranged in the order in which each area is encountered on the programme specification.

The programme specification form can be downloaded from the form bank. If, after reading the below guidance, you have any further queries, please contact your College Academic Policy Partner.


Basic Programme Information

Partner College/Schools/Institutes

If another College, School, or Institute in the University will contribute to the programme (usually by running one or more modules on the programme) this needs to be indicated. New programmes/programme modifications will be approved by the owning School/Institute (and any module-level paperwork will be approved by the area that owns the module). Ensure that the partner area is consulted when changes are made to the programme. 

Programmes Delivered in Collaboration with Another Organisation

This box should be completed if the programme will be delivered in collaboration with an organisation outside of the University of Birmingham. The Quality Assurance Agency defines this as 'provision that leads to the award of academic credit and that is delivered, assessed or supported in partnership between two or more organisations', e.g. 'provision where the achievement of learning outcomes for the module or course are dependent on the arrangements made between the organisations.' 

If the programme will be collaborative with another organisation, please state the organisation's name and the type of collaboration, e.g. Joint Degree or Validation.

When creating a new collaborative programme, before engaging with the programme approval process, a collaborative arrangement needs to be approved in principle by the Collaborative Provision Committee (see the page on programme proposals for more information). 

Programme Category

Please select whether the programme will be Specialist, Joint, or Integrated (for UG programmes), or Classic or Flexible (for PG programmes). There is more information about the different categories on the Enhanced Curriculum Framework page


This section indicates the qualifications that will appear on students' transcripts, e.g. 'BA History'. Please include any alternative qualifications, i.e. qualifications available if a student exits early, and ensure these are clearly marked, e.g. 'PGDip Politics [alternative qual. only]'.

HECoS Code

Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) codes replaced JACS codes from 18/19 onwards. They are used by a range of stakeholders to classify subjects of study for several purposes, including league tables and National Student Survey results publication. If you are unsure of which HECoS code to choose, please contact your College Planning Partner.

Aims of the Programme

The programme aims should include (but are not limited to):

  • A general overview of the programme and its content, focussing on any innovative or distinctive elements.
  • The skills that students will develop over the programme, both generic and specific to the subject.
  • The experiences students will have (you can mention here any placements that are a core part of the programme).
  • A description of the areas of work or further study to which graduates might progress.


  • Keeping the aims short and concise, e.g. approximately 400 words, so that students, those approving the programme, and those teaching on the programme can quickly and easily understand what the programme is aiming to achieve. (Note that the length of this field in the Banner records system is 4000 characters (including spaces), so programme aims cannot exceed this).
  • Using student-focused language, as the aims will be visible to students via the Programmes and Modules Handbook. Making the aims student-focused also means they can more easily be used in marketing communications. 

Not Recommended:

  • Including detailed information regarding structure and delivery, e.g. naming modules, providing details of assessments, listing the numbers of seminars and lectures, or naming teaching staff, as these are all subject to change in the future.
  • Including hyperlinks and/or graphs or photos, as these cannot be displayed on the Programmes and Modules Handbook.
  • Using jargon/acronyms that are not readily accessible to non-specialists.

External Reference Points in Programme Design

QAA Subject Benchmark Statements

The QAA Subject Benchmark Statements should be used as reference points in programme design. The statements, written by subject specialists, 'describe the nature of study and the academic standards expected of graduates in specific subject areas. They show what graduates might reasonably be expected to know, do and understand at the end of their studies.' Using the statements in programme design, therefore, ensures the programme is coherent and that it enables students to develop skills as appropriate to the subject matter. 

On the specification you need to outline how a statement was used, e.g. to inform the content of the programme or to ensure the appropriate level in the learning outcomes.

Make sure you refer to the full name of the particular subject benchmark statement(s) used in your answer. It is also recommended that you provide one or two specific examples of how the programme has been informed by the relevant statement. For example, you could quote a key programme outcome, and then quote the specific section(s) of the Subject Benchmark Statements from which it was derived. For example:

‘Subject benchmark statement used: X. The content of the programme, aims of the programme, and the programme outcomes have been formulated using the above subject benchmark statement. This is shown by the breadth and depth of subject specific knowledge/understanding and generic skills-based programme outcomes, which correspond to the relevant sections of the subject benchmark statement. The statement has also informed the level of educational challenge and standard of academic achievement that successful students are expected to demonstrate via the chosen assessment methods.’


‘The above-named subject benchmark statement has been used to inform the content of the programme, as well as the aims and the nature and standard of the programme outcomes (and the corresponding learning, teaching, and assessment methods).’


‘The content of the programme, aims, and programme outcomes have all been formulated using the above-named subject benchmark statement. In particular, the programme outcomes have been mapped against the subject specific knowledge/skills and the generic skills outlined in the statement.’


‘Though there is not a subject-specific benchmark statement for X, the benchmark statements for the related subjects of Y and Z have nonetheless been consulted in order to inform, in a general way, the aims of the degree and the knowledge and skills to be demonstrated through it, as well as general principles for teaching, learning, assessment, and standards.’

Subject Benchmark Statements are periodically reviewed by the QAA, so if the statement that relates to your programme has been updated since the programme was first set up/last modified please refer to the revised statement, making any modifications to the programme/modules as required. Ensuring programmes align to the latest benchmarks is one of the ways we keep our programmes up-to-date and representative of current thinking and practices in the relevant subject matter.

OfS Sector-recognised Standards

The OfS Sector Recognised Standards are available to download from here. On the programme specification you need to state to which level of the Standards your programme corresponds. Foundation degrees correspond to Level 5, Honours degrees to Level 6, Master's degrees to Level 7, and Doctoral degrees to Level 8.  

You should also state how the Standards were used, e.g. in determining the name of the qualification.

The text below provides examples of good practice with regard to the use of the OfS Sector-recognised Standards. It is also recommended that you provide one or two specific examples of how the programme has been informed by the OfS Standards. For example, you could quote one of the core aspects of the relevant qualification descriptor in the Standards and indicate to which of the programme outcomes it is particularly closely linked.

‘The programme corresponds to Level 6 of the OfS Sector-recognised Standards. The Standards have helped to define the level of academic achievement which is expected of students and this is reflected in the programme outcomes.’


‘The programme corresponds to Level 7 of the OfS Sector-recognised Standards. The qualification descriptor has informed the level of academic achievement expected of students (please see the programme outcomes) and, following on from this, the teaching, learning and assessment methods used on the programme.’


‘The programme corresponds to Level 6 of the OfS Sector-recognised Standards. The programme is aligned with the generic statement of outcomes set out in the qualification descriptor for Level 6 within the Standards. The programme outcomes are therefore derived from the list of abilities/skills that successful students typically demonstrate. The programme has been designed to ensure that graduates have the appropriate transferable skills and qualities for their future employment.’

QAA Characteristics Statements

The QAA has published a series of Characteristics Statements, covering Master's degrees, Doctoral degrees, Foundation degrees, and Apprenticeships, which describe the distinctive features of qualifications at those levels within the Qualifications Frameworks. They describe the qualifications in terms of their purpose, general characteristics, and generic outcomes, but do not include subject level detail.

If the programme covered by the specification is a PG programme, Foundation programme, or an Apprenticeship, please detail in the specification how the programme corresponds to the relevant Characteristics Statement. 

Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies

If the programme is subject to accreditation, the programme specification should state how the requirements/guidelines of the Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRB) have informed the design of the programme. As an example, ‘the programme learning outcomes are based on those published by IChemE’ or ‘the programme includes 30 hours of work-based learning’.

The programme should be regularly reviewed to ensure it aligns with the PSRB's requirements, as these are subject to change. This is also a way of ensuring that the programme aligns to the latest industrial and professional developments. 

Additional Programme Information

Inclusivity, Access and Student Support

As a University, we are committed to ensuring that our programmes and modules are inclusive of all students including: international, part-time, mature, those from different socio-economic backgrounds (class) and those with protected characteristics according to the Equality Act 2010 (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation).

All programmes and modules should therefore seek to promote equality of opportunity through ensuring they pose no barriers to applications, access, or progression for any student who meets the admissions criteria.

Comment briefly on how your School/Institute/Department promotes equality of opportunity through ensuring no barriers are posed to applications, access or progression for any protected group.

The below Micro CPD provides guidance on completing this section of the programme specification. 



Exemptions from Regulations

The specification requires you to detail any regulatory exemptions that have been approved for the programme or have been requested (if the specification is for a new programme). 

Any exemption from University Regulations, including from the semesterised structure, needs University-level approval; your College Academic Policy Partner will be able to advise. Regulatory exemptions will only be granted if there are sound reasons, e.g. if it is a requirement of the Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body.

Fitness to Practise Regulations

The specification asks whether students on the programme will be subject to Fitness to Practise regulations. These regulations ensure that students meet professional standards of conduct for awards that lead to a professionally recognised qualification, for example Medicine, Initial Teacher Training, Dentistry, and Social Work. Students who register on these programmes must sign and abide by a programme-specific Code of Professional Conduct.

Further information can be obtained from Student Conduct, including a list of programmes currently subject to Fitness to Practise regulations. 

Programme Learning Outcomes

Programme Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes are the minimum requirements students must meet in order to pass the programme, rather than a description of the content aims (which should be covered in the 'programme aims' section). They must be aligned to the relevant QAA benchmark statements and frameworks (see section above) to ensure that they have the appropriate level of rigour and difficulty, and should signal to students the programme's unique selling point.

The learning outcomes are divided into ‘Students are expected to have knowledge and understanding of’ and ‘Students are expected to have attained the following skills and other attributes’. Each row below should contain a different outcome under these headings, i.e. knowledge and understanding relevant to the subject matter, and other skills relevant to the subject matter including, but not limited to, cognitive skills, practical skills, transferable skills, and professional competencies. 

Please refer to the Graduate Attributes in the learning outcomes, as these should be embedded in all programmes and clearly articulated for students.

The next section/column should outline the corresponding teaching and learning methods that will be employed to ensure students can achieve the stated outcome, e.g. ‘lectures’, ‘completion of dissertation’, ‘guided research’, ‘laboratory demonstrations’, 'workshops', etc.

All learning outcomes must be assessed by means of a summative assessment, which is detailed in the next section/column: failure to achieve all stated learning outcomes results in a student’s failure on the programme. All students should be assessed effectively, i.e. assessed in a challenging and appropriately comprehensive way, by reference to the subject matter. This includes providing stretch and rigour consistent with the level of the course and the testing relevant skills.

The next column requires you to detail the level of qualification associated with fulfilment of this learning outcome. If more than one qualification may be available (including alternative qualifications) it is important to be able to distinguish which learning outcomes relate to each level of qualification. For example, for a BSc the last column would be ‘CertHE/DipHE/BSc’ for learning outcomes that would be met in the first year of the course (after which a student could exit with a Certificate of Higher Education), whereas just ‘BSc’ would indicate that the learning outcomes would only be met in the final year, e.g. research skills that are assessed via a final year dissertation. 

In the final column (where this is separate) you should state the subject, major, minor, specialism, pathway etc. to which the learning outcome relates. For example, the learning outcome could be linked to History (i.e. a single honours subject), an English major, Computer Science minor, or a particular interdisciplinary pathway. Where there is a separate column for the subject, this can be left blank if not relevant.

Additional guidance on devising programme learning outcomes is available from the Higher Education Futures institute (HEFi).

Programme Requirements (Modules on the Programme)

Programme Requirements

This section is used to detail the modules that form the programme. It is expected that, when the programme is designed, the modules will introduce the subject and skills in an appropriate order, building on them throughout the programme as relevant.

The programme requirements are usually divided into three tables (note that the tables and rows can be added/deleted as required). The expectation is that for UG programmes the first section would outline 120 credits of LC modules, which would lead to a Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE), with the pathways and ‘exit routes’ potentially available to students at the end of Stage 1 clearly articulated. This would be followed by 120 credits at LI, leading to 240 credits and a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), and the final section the last 120 credits, leading to 360 credits in total and the relevant Bachelor’s degree (BA, BSc etc.).

For Master's programmes, the three sections can be used to detail the modules required for the different potential exit qualifications: PG Certificate (60 credits), PG Diploma (120 credits), and a Master's (180 credits). Alternatively, for full-time Master's with no alternative exit qualifications, only one section needs to be used.

The columns should be used to list the modules’ title, credits, level, module code (if known), date from which any changes are effective, and the semester of delivery.

The module title column can also be used to note if a module has a module attribute, by placing this in brackets after the title. Module attributes are relevant where it is useful to put modules into categories, e.g. putting modules into subject-based categories on a specialist programme to indicate which modules can contribute to any specialist minors if not already obvious, or putting modules into a themed category, such as ‘Languages for All modules’. 

The ‘effective from’ column should be used to indicate from when the relevant module/change is effective. For example, for a new standard 3-year UG programme launching in 23/24, the LC modules would be effective from 23/24, the LI modules from 24/25, and LH modules from 25/26. This section is also important when making modifications to programmes and allows you to make phased changes, e.g. if a series of modules are being introduced over a few years. If modules are being withdrawn, they should be struck through on the specification and the ‘effective from’ should indicate the first year in which it will no longer run.

Ensure you detail any rules that dictate the choice of optional modules, e.g. 'students must choose 60 credits from the following list'.

If there are any modules that must be passed in order to pass the degree (rather than attempted) please ensure these are clearly noted on the programme requirements, e.g. 'It is a specific requirement of this programme that students must pass the [name] module in order to be awarded an Honours degree'. If multiple modules must be passed, these could be noted with an asterisk (making it clear what the asterisk denotes). 


Frequently Asked Questions and Guidance

Creating Major/Minor and Joint Degrees: ‘Whole’ vs ‘Half’ Programme Specification

A ‘half’ programme specification covers only one part of a course, i.e. it is a specification that only has the programme aims, learning outcomes, and modules related to, e.g., a major, minor, one half of a joint course, or an intercalated year. In deciding how to approach the paperwork, please consider the below; either approach is valid, but colleagues should consider mitigation of the cons for each.  

A ‘half’ specification approach could be particularly appropriate if:

  • You’re creating a major/minor that could be slotted into multiple other degrees, and you don’t necessarily know what these are yet. 
  • The major/minor has clear standalone aims, learning outcomes, and modules that can be clearly indicated on the specification.
  • You’re setting up an intercalated year that can be added to multiple other degrees. 

Pros of the ‘half’ specification approach: 

  • Less paperwork, as you only add the aims, learning outcomes, and modules that relate to one part of the degree. 
  • The specification can be shared with other areas across UoB, so they can consider whether they wish to add the major/minor to their degrees.
  • It is clear which School/Institute and College should lead on the approval of the paperwork (areas are always strongly advised to consult with any other areas of the University that may be affected by any programme developments). 


  • The degree is not reviewed as a whole, therefore major/minor or joint degrees could appear to be less coherent, e.g. there could be repetition across learning outcomes (note it is expected that there is always communication between ‘partner’ Schools/Institutes).
  • Similarly, it would be more difficult to ensure that students would gain the Graduate Attributes across the course as a whole.  

Having a whole specification for the degree, covering both elements, could be particularly appropriate if: 

  • The programme is based on an existing joint degree that has a combined specification for both halves, e.g. a major/minor or joint degree that is based on an existing joint honours programme.
  • There will be a limited number of combinations, e.g. courses with a defined major/minor.
  • The programme is an interdisciplinary degree.  


  • Ensures the programme learning outcomes and modules are coherent and complementary, and avoids any repetition, as they will be approached as a whole.
  • Makes it easier to identify any potential gaps in Graduate Attributes or incoherence in other elements of the specification. 
  • Clearly indicates which combinations of subjects are permitted. 
  • Allows the course to be considered in terms of the appropriateness of the fit of the major and minor. 


  • Could be harder to offer either part as a standalone major/minor to other areas as the different parts cannot be easily separated.  

Does each individual programme need its own specification, e.g. Dubai and Edgbaston, or part-time and full-time programmes?

The specification outlines the programme’s aims, learning outcomes, and modules, so generally each programme will have its own specification. This includes distance learning or transnational versions of campus programmes (e.g. programmes running in Dubai), as these programmes will have different modules attached (as well as other differences, such as location of teaching). When creating a new Dubai programme, for example, the UK version of the specification would generally be used as a basis for the Dubai version, with the necessary alterations being made (with changes untracked). Having separate specifications also reduces the chance of confusion, e.g. between which modules are available on which programmes. 

There are some exceptions. Part-time programmes can be included on the same specification as the full-time version, assuming they have the same structure. Make sure the programme code is included and that it is clear (if you are submitting a programme proposal) that a part-time version is required.

Similarly, alternative exit qualifications can appear on the same specification; the programme requirements section can be used to outline the modules associated with each award (CertHE, DipHE etc.). 

Do all programmes of study have programme specifications? What about PGR programmes?

There are programmes that have programme codes but that do not have specifications. These include standard PhD programmes (that have no taught content) and affiliate programmes, i.e. programmes set up (often at the department level) to allow students to register on a small number of modules. There are some PGR programmes that require a specification, such as professional doctorates, PhDs with integrated study, or MRes programmes, i.e. programmes that include any taught content. As for any taught programme they should provide the programme’s aims, learning outcomes etc. and the modules that are attached the programme.

Where else will the programme aims appear?

The programme aims are published on the University of Birmingham’s website. They are intended to provide information to prospective students, current students and, potentially, to employers looking at students’ transcripts.




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