2. Programme approval process

  • This section of the Quality & Standards Handbook refers to the approval of new programmes of study leading to a University award, and to existing programmes undergoing re-validation. The University’s definition of a programme of study, and the currently available awards in the University’s portfolio, to which a programme of study may lead, can be found in A1 of the University Regulations.

    This section covers:

  • 2.1.1 All new programme proposals must be approved for further development by the relevant Faculty Executive Team, or other Faculty group with the relevant authority, prior to the establishment of a Programme Development Team (PDT). Initial development approval is the mechanism through which PVC/Deans assure themselves that new proposals demonstrate a fit with Faculty and University strategic priorities; and it enables them to assess and approve the allocation of resources to the development of the new programme.

    2.1.2 New programme proposers must prepare a submission to the appropriate Faculty Executive or business development group, with responsibility for approving proposals for new provision. The format of such submissions will vary according to individual Faculty requirements, but they should include the following minimum information:

    • rationale for the development of the new programme, including the market rationale (i.e. why the programme will attract students in sustainable numbers);
    • the contribution of the new provision to the achievement of Faculty and University strategic objectives;
    • evidence of potential market demand - a full feasibility study may be undertaken with assistance from SBPO, who should be consulted at this stage to agree on the format of such a study. The market Demand Assessment template on the SBPO Intranet page provides a good basis for structuring initial feasibility work;
    • business case/costing model, using the template available via the APQO related links for this chapter and including:
      • costs of development and delivery;
      • funding and fees (income) information;
      • risk assessment;
    • proposed membership of the PDT.

    2.1.3 Once the initial development approval has been signed off by the PVC/Dean (or, in their absence, an authorised member of the Faculty Executive Team) of each Faculty to be involved in the delivery of the new programme, the PDT should be established (see 2.2 below). On receipt of confirmation that Faculty permission has been given for further development – via the New Programme Registration Form (T2.1) - the link Quality Assurance Officer (QAO) will make an entry in the APQO programme approval schedule. The programme may, at this stage, be advertised as “subject to validation”.

    2.1.4 At this stage, a preliminary meeting should be held between the PDT Chair, the link QAO, Faculty Quality Officer, and Associate Dean (Student Experience) or PL(Quality Assurance & Validation), to agree on a timescale for the completion of the validation process and set a date for the panel approval event. In deciding on deadlines for completion of the approval process, new programme proposers should bear in mind the application procedures that apply to their provision. From a QA perspective, it is possible to schedule approval events for new programmes (and major/minor changes to existing programmes) at any time of year, according to the needs of the Faculty. However, sufficient time must be allowed between the approval event and the intended start date to enable effective marketing and recruitment activities to take place or to notify students/applicants of programme changes; and a number of deadlines are in place to help manage these processes. Further guidance (G2.5) is available to explain the implications of operating outside the agreed timescales.

    2.2.1 The role of the PDT is to provide a forum through which the design of the new programme may be informed by a range of expertise from within and – crucially - external to the University, so as to meet sector expectations and the University’s criteria for approval. The PDT is responsible for ensuring that appropriate consultation takes place with Directorates, and for the preparation of the programme documentation to an appropriate standard for submission to an approval panel (please refer also to the APQO guidance note G2.1 for PDTs).

    2.2.2 The PDT must work with relevant colleagues in the Faculty and Directorates to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is put in place to support learning on the programme. The PDT must also ensure that the programme design process:

    1. takes cognisance of key external reference points, which must include relevant subject benchmark statements and professional body standards, the UK Quality Code (Part A), and any other relevant discipline or industry standards;
    2. takes into account the expectations of the University’s Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience, the Assessment Compact, and other internal teaching, learning and assessment policies and guidance on good practice, working through OCSLD Course Design Intensives (CDIs), as required;
    3. ensures that the programme structure and assessment complies with the relevant University Regulations, and, where necessary, an application for variation from the regulations or for the addition of a new award type is made well in advance of the programme approval event. The approval of the PVC (Student Experience) for new Semester 1 examinations must also be secured prior to the approval event;
    4. confirms that appropriate teaching expertise (underpinned by relevant research and scholarship), learning resources and academic support can be provided for students on the proposed programme;
    5. involves robust stakeholder consultations, as appropriate to the programme under development. This may include current and former students, employers, service users, etc; but it must, as a minimum, involve consultation with at least one independent external adviser - with experience of delivering similar provision in another UK higher education institution and, where appropriate, professional expertise - who should complete the report proforma T2.3.

    2.2.3 In order to ensure that these tasks may be effectively completed, the PDT membership must include:

    1. Chair (the programme leader, or another individual with appropriate experience of programme design and approval), responsible for coordinating the work of the PDT, ensuring agreed deadlines are met, for liaising with External Advisers and other stakeholders, and for proposing external members for the programme approval panel;
    2. a range of academic staff who will be involved in the delivery of the programme, including the leaders of all compulsory modules;
    3. External Adviser/s;
    4. Faculty Head of Finance & Planning, responsible for assisting with the preparation of the business case;
    5. Subject Librarian, responsible for providing advice on learning resources and for assisting with requests for additional texts, journals, etc to support the new programme;
    6. link OCSLD link Developer, responsible for providing advice on good practice in approaches to teaching, learning and assessment, and for arranging CDIs as necessary;
    7. link Quality Assurance Officer, responsible for providing advice on the requirements of the programme approval process, including documentation and regulatory matters, and for approving the membership of the programme approval panel;
    8. a member of the Course & Student Administration Team (Student Central), to provide advice on the information requirements to ensure the timely and accurate updating of the University records system;
    9. Faculty Quality Officer, Programme Portfolio Manager, or Academic Administration Manager, depending on who will subsequently act as panel secretary: responsible for keeping a record of action points arising from PDT meetings, for proposing internal approval panel members, and for coordinating the circulation of submission documentation to the panel;
    10. Students and other stakeholders may also be invited to join the PDT, as appropriate;
    11. PDTs should also consult the Scheduling Team (Academic Office) at an early stage for advice on timetabling options for the new programme.

    NOTE: The PL(Quality Assurance & Validation), or equivalent, and the Associate Dean (Student Experience) may also wish to attend PDT meetings in order to assure themselves that the PDT is adhering to agreed deadlines for consultation and development, and that the documentation is being prepared to an appropriate standard. They should, as a minimum, be treated as members of the PDT in respect of circulation of documents, agendas and action points, but may choose to maintain an overview of progress via regular updates from the PDT Chair rather than attendance at meetings.

    2.2.4 In order to avoid excessive pressure on staff workloads, it is not necessary for all members to attend every meeting of the PDT. However, members must attend meetings at which their expertise is required in order to progress the business of the PDT - the agenda of each meeting must therefore be provided to all members in sufficient time to enable the appropriate personnel to attend. A guidance note for PDTs on preparing for validation (G2.1) is available on the APQO website

    2.3.1 All proposals for new programmes of study are considered by a programme approval panel, whose constitution is based on the principles set out in section 2 above, and on the sector commitment to quality assurance by peer review. Programme teams and approval panels should note that they have a shared responsibility for identifying and solving any issues in order to achieve a successful outcome for the approval process. A guidance note on the conduct of validation panels (G2.3), and information about training for panel chairs and members, is available on the APQO website.

    2.3.2 Programme approval panels should be constituted as follows:

    1. Chair, independent of the proposing Faculty (see also 2.3.5 below)
    2. Internal Assessors (see also 2.3.3 and 2.3.5 below):
      1. one academic staff member from each Faculty involved in the delivery of the proposal, but from outside the Department/s presenting the proposal;
      2. one academic staff member from a Faculty not involved in the delivery of the proposed programme;
    3. External Assessors: at least one external panel member, employed in another UK higher education institution (see also 2.3.4 below);
    4. link Quality Assurance Officer from APQO;
    5. Panel Secretary (usually the Faculty Quality Officer);

    2.3.3 For programmes to be delivered by distance or e-learning, at least one member of the panel must have expertise of this mode of delivery. In the case of complex validation events held conjointly with one or more professional bodies, the panel must be constituted so that it contains the knowledge and expertise to deal with the potential issues involved. This may have particular implications for the selection of the panel member from within the Faculty.

    2.3.4 External Assessors should have had no previous involvement with the development of the programme, nor should they have been an external examiner within the Department in the last five years. They must have:

    1. the ability to form an expert and objective opinion of the overall standards of the programme/s and the comparability of those standards within the UK HE sector;
    2. academic qualifications at least to the level of the proposed programme and expertise relevant to the subject area under consideration;
    3. familiarity with current developments in the field of study concerned;
    4. knowledge and experience of current practice and developments in teaching, learning and assessment in higher education;
    5. for programmes with professional elements, awareness of the educational requirements for the profession - it may be necessary to secure an additional external assessor in order to fulfill this criterion.

    2.3.5 Internal panel members must have experience of delivering and assessing at the level of the award under consideration, and a good understanding of the University’s quality assurance requirements. In addition, panel chairs should have:

    1. appropriate seniority within the University, e.g. Associate Dean (Student Experience), Head of Department, Programme Lead, Subject Coordinator, Senior or Principal Lecturer;
    2. experience of programme approval panel membership, within Brookes and at other higher education institutions;
    3. experience of chairing meetings;
    4. attended the APQO workshop for panel chairs.

    2.3.6 The membership of individual panels will be negotiated between the PDT and the link QAO, who will approve the final constitution of the panel - the panel nomination form (T2.4) may be used to keep a record of proposed members. The details of proposed External Assessors must also be presented separately to the link QAO, for approval against the criteria below, using the External Assessor nomination form (T2.5). In the case of a conjoint approval event with a professional body, the panel should also include a representative of the PSRB – this representative is normally nominated by the PSRB and notified to the University, and they should also be listed in the panel nomination form for information.

    2.4.1 Before they may confer an approval decision, programme approval panels must gain evidence - from the documentation submitted or during discussions with the programme team (and students and other stakeholders) - that the criteria set out in 2.5 below have been met; or that they are likely to be met within a reasonable period from the panel event, such that conditional approval may be given.

    2.4.2 Administrative arrangements for the panel meeting are the responsibility of the Panel Secretary, who should ensure that the documentation for the approval panel event is circulated to all members of the panel at least two working weeks prior to the approval meeting. The documentation should, ideally, be circulated electronically (by email or made available to all panel members via Google or Moodle). The date of the approval event and deadline for submission of documentation should be agreed when the PDT is established, and the link QAO and the Faculty PL(QA) should be notified if the PDT wishes to re-negotiate the submission deadline at a later stage.

    2.4.3 The PDT will prepare the following documentation for the panel:

    1. Submission document (T2.6);
    2. Programme specification (T2.7 – guidance notes on completing the template can be found in G2.2);
    3. Module descriptors (T2.8);
    4. Programme (student) handbook (the content must be in line with APQO guidance in T2.9, on which the online Moodle template is based);
    5. For professionally accredited programmes, the PSRB may require additional documentation which should also be included in the submission;
    6. Panels should note that chapter B3 of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (learning and teaching) applies equally for distance learning programmes, and on-campus provision. For programmes which are to be delivered, in whole or substantial part, by distance or e-learning, a selection of teaching materials must be provided, and a demonstration of the VLE included in the programme for the approval meeting. The specific requirements for demonstrations at individual events should be agreed in advance with the panel Chair and Officer, depending on the scale of the provision; but, for guidance, a minimum of two modules should be fully worked up so that the panel is able to make a judgement on the learning experience that will be provided through the proposed mode of study;
    7. For programmes being re-validated, or for new programmes which include existing modules, change request form for any existing modules being amended for use in the new version of the programme (T2.14);
    8. Closure forms for any programmes being replaced by the new provision (see 6.3.3).

    2.4.4 The Panel should also be provided with the following information (in the form of links to the relevant websites – see table in 2.5.1 below), for reference:

    1. relevant extracts from the UK Quality Code Part A (e.g. subject benchmark statements, FHEQ, and relevant qualification benchmarks);
    2. PSRB professional standards and programme requirements, where applicable;
    3. For Degree and Higher Apprenticeship provision- the apprenticeship standard, assessment plan and relevant extracts from the ESFA Apprenticeship Funding Rules for HEIs.
    4. For Degree and Higher Apprenticeships, relevant extracts from HEFCE degree apprenticeships guidance.
    5. this chapter of the Quality & Standards Handbook (and also, in the case of collaborative provision, chapter 5), with particular reference to the programme approval criteria (see 2.5 below).

    2.4.5 Advice on the formulation of the agenda for the event should be sought from the link QAO. An outline agenda is available in template T2.10, which should be tailored to the event so that the scheduled meetings enable the panel to meet with an appropriate range of staff, students and other stakeholders to explore:

    1. the appropriateness of the standards set (i.e. the programme learning outcomes) and the match with the title of award;
    2. the range of internal and external consultation that has informed the development of the new programme;
    3. the rationale for the proposal, the likely demand and student entry profiles;
    4. criteria for admission to the programme, and how candidates will be assessed against them;
    5. the curriculum: its design, content, delivery and assessment, and how it promotes learning and enables students to meet the requirements of the target award;
    6. the adequacy of the programme management structures, including those concerned with academic and pastoral support for students;
    7. the suitability of the staffing, physical learning environment, and other learning resources to support the provision.

    2.4.6 If possible (particularly for events being held abroad to consider the approval or re-approval of international collaborative arrangements), a meeting should be held between the panel Chair, the link QAO and the PDT chair in advance of event, to confirm that the panel is properly constituted, the programme documentation is complete, members of the programme team are ready to meet with the panel, and, if necessary, identify any additional requirements for the event. It is also good practice for the Chair and link QAO to request all panel members to indicate, in advance of the event, the key areas they would like to explore during the panel meetings with staff and students – this will assist the panel in agenda-setting on the day of the event, facilitate the programme team’s preparation for meeting with the panel, and promote the transparency and collegiality of the process.

    2.5.1 Consultation

    The panel should establish that the programme development team has taken full account of the outcomes of internal and external consultation (as noted in 2.2 above), and engaged with relevant reference points, including:

    Internal reference points External reference points

    (as applicable)

    • Professional, Statutory and
      Regulatory Body (PSRB) requirements 

    Apprenticeship requirements (see also Chapter 7):

    OCSLD guidance on programme design,
    including developing an inclusive curriculum,
    embedding the Assessment Compact,
    and contextualising the Brookes Attributes

    Equality legislation - see advice on:

    2.5.2 Curriculum

    The Panel should satisfy themselves that the curriculum presented for approval:

    1. articulates an educational rationale, aims and intended learning outcomes which are appropriate to the level of the award, reflect the award title and show how the Brookes Attributes will be addressed. The intended learning outcomes for each substantive (i.e. target) exit award should also be articulated.
    2. is designed so as to enable the students to meet the programme’s aims and learning outcomes, i.e. it can be shown how individual modules contribute to the achievement of the programme outcomes.
    3. demonstrates coherence and intellectual integrity.
    4. is designed to ensure depth, breadth and balance of subject, intellectual, practical and personal skills, including opportunities for students to acquire knowledge, skills and attributes that are valued by employers.
    5. is designed to ensure relevant progression in terms of the demands placed upon students as the programme advances.
    6. incorporates the requirements of relevant Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) and of the University’s regulatory framework.
    7. is being taught by a team of staff with appropriate experience and expertise, and is enriched by student exposure to and involvement in provision at the forefront of scholarship, research and/or professional practice.
    8. demonstrates a commitment to inclusive practice.

    2.5.3 Recruitment and admissions

    The Panel should assure themselves that the admissions criteria are consistent with the programme’s aims, learning outcomes and level of the award, taking account of the target market and the requirements of any PSRB requirements or relevant legislation. They should also consider the means by which the programme team intends to assess candidates against the admissions criteria.

    2.5.4 Learning, teaching and assessment

    The Panel should satisfy themselves that the programme team’s strategy for learning, teaching and assessment:

    1. provides effective stimulation, challenge and contact time that encourages students to engage and actively commit to their studies.
    2. is consistent with the stated aims of the programme, and that appropriate learning opportunities will be provided to enable students to meet the learning outcomes.
    3. validly and reliably assesses the achievement of all the programme's intended learning outcomes.
    4. complies with University policies, and engages with OCSLD guidance, relating to learning, teaching and assessment, in particular the Assessment Compact, so that assessment and feedback is used effectively to support students’ development, progression and attainment.
    5. reflects good practice in teaching and learning, with arrangements in place to assure and enhance the quality of teaching.
    6. demonstrates a commitment to the provision of an excellent learning experience, as set out in the Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience (SESE).
    7. provides accessible opportunities for all students, including those with additional needs, to meet the learning outcomes.

    2.5.5 Programme management

    The panel should be satisfied that the programme management structures, including those concerned with academic and pastoral support for students, will meet the needs of the expected students, including the provision of support for students with disabilities. In the case of programmes delivered by two or more Faculties, the arrangements for programme management should be clearly articulated and understood by all involved in delivering the programme.

    The panel should also be assured that appropriate quality management arrangements are in place for assuring the academic standards and enhancing the quality of the provision, including systems for seeking and responding to feedback from students.

    2.5.6 Learning resources

    The panel should assure themselves that sufficient resources (including teaching staff with the appropriate expertise) are in place, or are planned, so that the programme team may provide learning opportunities which will enable students to achieve the programme learning outcomes. Systems should also be in place to provide reasonable adjustments for students with additional needs.

    2.5.7 For programmes being delivered by distance or e-learning

    The panel must assure themselves that the proposal fulfils the expectations set out in the UK Quality Code, and meets the expectations of the University in respect of: the security and reliability of the delivery and assessment systems; assuring the quality of study materials; the skills and expertise of the staff delivering on the programme; and the mechanisms for providing timely academic support and feedback.

    2.6.1 The panel event will result in one of the following three outcomes:

    1. To recommend approval of the programme/s to the University’s Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee, with or without conditions and/or recommendations;
    2. To refer the proposal for further work where there are a number of significant issues to be addressed. This will allow time for the programme development team to consult more widely and fully revise the documentation, which should be considered by a re-convened panel;
    3. To reject the proposal because a range of substantive issues affecting several aspects of delivery and assessment need to be addressed. This decision requires the proposal to be re-submitted for development approval from the start of the process as set out in section 2.1 above.

    2.6.2 Conditions must be set where essential action is required to address an issue that has the potential to put academic standards at risk, or where action is required in order to meet the University’s procedural or regulatory requirements; and this action must be carried out before the programme may recruit students (re-submitted documentation must also meet the University’s documentary standards, whether or not other conditions are set). Recommendations are more advisory in nature and refer to action that the panel consider would enhance the student learning experience but where no threat is posed to academic standards – responses to recommendations should be recorded in the first annual programme review. The panel should agree the deadline for meeting any conditions with the chair of the PDT, bearing in mind the recruitment cycle for the programme. Commendations for good practice may be made where the panel considers that action being taken by a programme team is having, or is likely to have, a particularly positive effect on the quality of teaching and learning in the context of the programme.

    2.6.3 Once approved, a programme of study remains in approval, subject to continuing to meet the requirements of the University’s quality assurance processes, including annual programme review and periodic review, until it is closed. However, in circumstances where a panel believes that, although the criteria for programme approval have been met, the proposing team may have limited capacity or resources for continuing to deliver the programme, a panel may consider defining a period of approval of less than six years. At the end of this period, the programme must be reviewed by another panel to determine whether the panel’s concerns have been addressed and the programme may continue.

    2.6.4 Immediately after the event, the secretary should agree the wording of the conditions and recommendations with the panel Chair and the link QAO, and these should be circulated to the PDT and copied to the Faculty ADSE and PLQA. The full report of the panel’s discussions and conclusions will subsequently be prepared by the panel Secretary – where possible, this should be drafted within two weeks of the event - following the format set out in the approval report template (T2.11) and guidance (G2.4). The report should be approved by the panel Chair, agreed as an accurate record by all other panel members; and forwarded to the programme team to inform the action being taken in response to the conditions and recommendations. The Programme Lead should return the revised documentation to the panel Chair and link QAO, via the panel Secretary, together with a completed response to conditions and recommendations form (T2.12), indicating how the issues raised by the panel have been addressed. In some cases, the panel Chair may choose to consult with other panel members to confirm whether or not conditions have been satisfactorily addressed. Any extensions to the re-submission deadline must be negotiated with the link QAO and ADSE/PLQA.

    2.6.5 Once confirmed, the panel report will be scrutinised by the University AESC, in order to:

    1. confirm that the report provides evidence that the panel was properly constituted and that the process was properly conducted, as set out in this chapter;
    2. confirm that the report refers to the role of appropriate external reference points in defining academic standards, and to the University’s criteria for approval;
    3. confirm that appropriate conditions have been set by the panel, and note progress made by the programme team in meeting them;
    4. agree on responses to any recommendations for institutional action that have been made by the panel;
    5. note any good practice that has been identified, and consider how it might be more widely disseminated;

    AESC may request further information, or action, from panels or Faculties if they identify any areas for concern within the report, or any themes arising across a number of reports.

    2.6.6 The report is also received by the Faculty AESC, in order to enable the committee to monitor the completion of conditions and recommendations, identify any themes arising from approval events across the Faculty, and respond to any matters raised by the panel for action at local level, for example, the appointment of an external examiner. Approval for delivery of the programme is not dependent on the programme team’s response to recommendations, but the Faculty AESC may ask programme teams to consider and act upon certain recommendations sooner than the first annual review of the programme if they consider that an early response will benefit students on the programme. Faculty AESCs should also consider any commendations of good practice for wider dissemination to other PDTs.

    2.6.7 When the Panel Chair and Associate Dean (Student Experience) are satisfied with the action taken by the PDT and have signed off the response to conditions form, the documentation will be forwarded to the Chair of AESC (PVC Student Experience) for final approval on behalf of AESC and the Senior Management Team. Following this approval, the link QAO will notify colleagues in the Marketing and Communications teams, Strategic & Business Planning Office, Admissions Office, Student Central, and colleagues in the Faculty. The ‘subject to validation’ tag will be removed from the programme marketing materials and prospectus and the programme will be allocated a UCAS code to enable students to enrol. The Course & Student Administration Team (Student Central) will be provided with a full set of the definitive programme information, in order it can be set up on the course records system, and the programme specification will be published on the APQO website.