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Academic Development Directorate

Section A: Programme and Course Approval

Committees:

  • Faculty Learning and Teaching Committee [FLTC]
  • Faculty Board
  • Joint Faculty Programme Panel [JFPP]
  • Learning and Teaching Quality Committee [LTQC]
  • Academic Board

Advice:

  • Faculty Administrators
  • Associate Deans Learning and Teaching
  • Director of Academic Development
  • Secretary to LTQC (Quality Assurance Manager)
  • Secretary to Academic Board (Secretariat Manager)
  • Head of Registry

Sections:

 Many Quality Assurance procedures, including those for approving new provision, are different for programmes and courses. This terminology is well-established but it may be useful to define it clearly, especially as new types of provision are introduced. By programme we mean a whole programme of study leading to an award, usually a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, certificate or diploma.  Course can mean an element or unit which combines with others to constitute a programme, or a short (one year or less) offering which may or may not be credit-bearing, but from which students would not ‘graduate’ with an award. In cases of uncertainty advice can be sought from the QA Manager.

A2 Programme design and development

The Academic Teaching Development Co-ordinator has considerable expertise in the design and development of new programmes, and can be called upon to advise – please contact Mehmet Izbudak (mi29@soas.ac.uk).

A2.1 Internal context

Departments intending to develop new programmes should ensure that they are consistent with the priorities set out in the School’s Strategic Plan, SOAS 2016: A Vision and Strategy for the Centennial, and Academic Sub-Strategy.

Proposed new or revised programmes should share the agreed aims of the School as a whole, namely:

  • to advance through teaching and research the knowledge and understanding of Africa, Asia and the Middle East;
  • to contribute to the development of the School’s academic disciplines;
  • to provide high quality education so that our students achieve excellence in their chosen subject or subjects and develop their intellectual and other core skills;
  • to promote and lead global public education in our areas of specialist expertise concerning Africa, Asia and the Middle East, both in the United Kingdom and around the world.

SOAS applies School-wide regulations to all its programmes. Departments wishing to develop a new programme should therefore pay close attention to the following regulations:

  • Regulations for students of SOAS
  • Procedure for the award of University of London degrees and School certificates and Diplomas
Undergraduate Level
  • Degree regulations for BA and BSc students at SOAS
  • Guide to the scheme for the classification for Honours of BA and BSc Students at SOAS
  • Degree regulations for LLB Students registering at SOAS
  • Guide to the scheme for the classification of Honours for LLB Students at SOAS
  • General Regulations for Certificates and Diplomas Based on Undergraduate Courses
Postgraduate Level
  • Guidance Notes, Procedures, and Classification Schemes Relating to Taught Masters Programmes
  • General regulations for postgraduate taught degrees
  • Code of practice for research degrees
  • Procedures in respect of research degree (MPhil, PhD) registration

The Head of Registry can advise on any questions relating to regulations.

There are also School policies and conventions which relate to the design of programmes, but which fall under the remit of Learning and Teaching Quality Committee, rather than Academic Board as do regulations. The Head of Registry can advise on these policies.

A2.2 External requirements

New and revised programmes should comply with the QAA's frameworks for curriculum design, found in the Quality Code. Of particular interest will be:

Programmes may also need to meet requirements set out by any relevant professional or statutory body: at the time of writing, these apply only to programmes in Law.

In order to comply with disability discrimination legislation and the School’s internal policies on equality and diversity, guidelines have been approved on choosing methods of assessment which may help to reduce unintentional discrimination. These are available to download on the right hand side of the screen.

A3 Programme approval

A3.1 Policy

All new programmes need the approval of Academic Board. In practice, this authority is delegated to the Learning and Teaching Quality Committee. No department of the School can begin teaching a new programme, or offer places on it to applicants, unless it has been approved by a meeting of LTQC. LTQC reports programme approvals to Academic Board.

Before LTQC can consider a programme proposal, it should have the support of Faculty Management Group (if relevant) and have been seen by the Joint Faculty Programme Panel [JFPP].

A3.2 Process

At the start of the programme approval process programme proposers are required to complete, in consultation with the Marketing Department, a short ‘Concept Note’ (available to download on the right hand side of the screen).  

The programme proposer should meet with a member of the Marketing Department to identify and define market needs.  The Marketing Department will help identify competitor institutions and comparative selling points. The programme proposer should be responsible for providing information on the academic content of competitors’ programmes and demonstrating how the new programme differentiates from them.

Completed Concept Notes should be approved by the Head of Department, Director of Academic Development, Head of Marketing and Head of Admissions and Recruitment before the programme proposal can proceed to the next (business case) stage of the approval procedure.    

As part of the Concept Note discussions, it is recommended that the programme proposer and Marketing Department agree a timetable for researching, developing and marketing the new programme that works backwards from a date in the calendar that represents the best time to introduce the new programme to the market.  

The completed Concept Note should be submitted with Part 1 of the Internal Business Case for consideration by Faculty Management Group, or JFPP in the case of a proposal arising outside the Faculties.

The proposer should then confirm what external advice will be sought. This is a requirement for all new programmes across the sector. At SOAS, it usually means advice from an academic peer: a subject specialist from another institution, which may be another college of the University of London. The advice of an existing visiting examiner is not sufficient. It is a requirement that a minimum of two External Advisors are nominated from different institutions.

An External Advisor Nomination Form must be completed for each External Advisor that the programme proposer wishes to consult and be signed off by the programme proposer and by the Head of Department as confirmation of departmental approval.   The completed External Advisor Nomination Forms should be submitted with Part 1 of the Internal Business Case for consideration by Faculty Management Group or JFPP.  The nomination form can be downloaded on the right hand side of the screen.

The programme proposal forms (Programme Planning: Internal Business Case Parts 1 and 2) are available to download on the right hand side of the screen and should be completed by the programme proposer.

Part 1 provides broad information about the programme to allow Faculty Management Group or JFPP to make an approval in principle. The form should be completed by the programme proposer and submitted to a departmental meeting for approval. If the programme is to be taught jointly with another department(s), all departmental approvals must be obtained. The relevant Head(s) of Department should then sign the form confirming departmental approval before it is passed to the Faculty Office for consideration by Faculty Management Group or JFPP. Programmes will not be approved without the support of departments.

Part 2 and its supporting information provide more details of the programme on the basis of which the Faculty Learning and Teaching Committee, JFPP and LTQC will reach a conclusion regarding recommendation for approval. The form itself asks the programme proposer to provide contextual information about the programme, including management arrangements, periods abroad etc. Details of possible competitor provision and evidence of demand for the programme should also be included. The next section of the Part 2 form requires consultation with various support services to ensure that the new programme will be adequately resourced in terms of learning resources and in line with the requirements of, for example, Admissions and Recruitment and the Registry. Comments from those consulted should be inserted in the relevant section of the form to help FLTC, JFPP and LTQC to decide on whether the proposal is sustainable, or whether its approval will require adjustments in other areas.

The programme proposer is then asked to provide a number of supporting documents, the first being a programme specification. The programme specification gives the intended learning outcomes and the means by which they will be demonstrated, as well as the detailed structure of the programme. The programme specification is an essential element of the approval process, but will subsequently provide the core information about the programme for a public audience. Guidance on the completion of programme specifications (Learning Outcomes Guidelines, sample PG Programme Specification content and sample UG Programme Specification content), as well as the specification template, are available to download on the right hand side of the screen.

It is a requirement that a minimum of two External Advisor Report Form are completed, which must be completed by the nominated External Advisors approved by FMG/JFPP.  The external advisors are asked to comment on the standards, academic content, proposed teaching, learning and assessment and entry requirements of the programme in relation to their knowledge of the subject area, including subject benchmarks and other external requirements where relevant. They are also invited to draw out any distinctive innovation/good practice before making an overall evaluation of the proposal. A form is available for their comments and can be downloaded on the right hand side of the screen.

If the proposed new programme includes any new courses, course proposal forms for these courses should be provided (forms at Course Approval).

The form also asks for details of any consultation with prospective employers (i.e. those who might consider employing graduates of the programme) or alumni. This is not compulsory, but is especially advisable in programmes with a strong vocational element or programmes in a new format or subject area. Where programme proposers have not consulted with prospective employers, they will be expected to show other evidence that they have considered the employability of graduates of the programme.
The form should be signed off by the programme proposer and by the Head of Department as confirmation of departmental approval.

Once Part 2 has been completed it should be submitted, with Part 1 and the associated documentation described above (including the programme specification), to the Secretary to the Faculty Learning and Teaching Committee for consideration by the Committee (see guidance below regarding timescales).

Non-Faculty Programmes

Centres, professional services directorates and other sections of the School which do not belong to a Faculty may propose programmes, and should contact the Quality Assurance Manager for advice when planning to do so. LTQC has approved a procedure for their consideration whereby scrutiny of Part 2 and supporting documentation is delegated to a panel consisting of academic and student members from across the School. The panel will carry out all parts of the procedure which would otherwise be undertaken by an FLTC, and will make a recommendation to JFPP regarding approval of the proposal.

Notes on completion of the form

Forms which are incomplete will not be considered. Programme proposers can increase the chances of their programme being approved by carefully answering all questions in each part of the form. ‘Not applicable’ is not a complete answer. Advice can be sought from Faculty Administrators, Associate Deans or the Quality Assurance Manager if the relevance of any question on the form is not immediately apparent.

Joint Faculty Programme Panel

The Joint Faculty Programme Panel [JFPP] was instituted by LTQC to vet programme proposals and make recommendations regarding their approval. Its membership is the Associate Deans for Learning and Teaching; the Director of Academic Development (as chair); the Head of Registry; the Head of Planning; the Head of Admissions and Recruitment; the Head of Teaching & Research Support (Library); the Head of College Careers Service and the Quality Assurance Manager, who convenes the panel and is the first point of contact for queries regarding it.

The two parts of the form, with any supporting documents (at a minimum, the programme specification and comments from external advisor) will be considered by the Joint Faculty Programme Panel, and any recommendations concerning the design and content of the programme or the completeness of the proposal paperwork will be referred back to the programme proposer. The amendments needed may be minor, in which case the Associate Dean will approve them by Chair’s action on its return to JFPP; or more significant, in which case the proposal will be referred back to FLTC. Only once the JFPP is happy that the proposal is complete and workable, will it recommend it to LTQC for approval.

A3.3 Timescale

Programme proposers are asked to bear in mind that programme approval can be a lengthy process. Prospectuses are finalised eighteen months before students arrive to take up places, and it is preferred that new programmes should be approved at least in principle (i.e. by submission of Part 1 to Faculty Management Group) before being advertised in the prospectus. Part 2 of the form can be completed, and appropriate advice sought, at the same time, or following publication. Where a programme has to be advertised to prospective applicants before it has been approved by LTQC, the words ‘subject to approval’ should be used prominently.

The following table gives an approximate timetable for the approval of a programme. The normal starting point for the formal process of programme approval would be the first half of Term 2 in the calendar year before that in which students were to be admitted (i.e. February 2014 for student intake in September 2015), although it could of course be earlier.

StepTiming
Proposal discussed by DepartmentTerm 1 and early Term 2
Concept note consultation with MarketingTerm 1 and early Term 2
Part 1, Concept Note and External Nomination Form submitted to FMG or JFPPBefore Reading Week Term 2
Recommendation in principle by FMG or JFPPFebruary/March
Inclusion in prospectusBy end Term 2
 Proposer works on details of programme, collects external advice and other supporting evidence over Term 3, summer vacation and if necessary term 1 of following year....
  EarliestLatest
 Parts 1 & 2 submitted to FLTC or extra-Faculty panel Beginning of Term 1End of February
 Recommendation by FLTC or extra-Faculty panel OctoberMarch
 Parts 1 & 2 submitted to JFPP By end OctoberBy Easter
 Recommendation by JFPP NovemberApril
 Full form submitted to LTQC By end NovemberBy 1st week May
 Final Approval by LTQC DecemberMay
 Admission of students September

A programme proposer may be asked to attend a committee meeting at which their proposal is to be considered, if they are not already a member of that committee, and if in the opinion of the Chair there are likely to be further questions regarding the proposal.

A4 Programme changes

It is recognised that programmes are likely to evolve over time in response to developments in the subject area, student feedback, annual monitoring, Periodic Programme Review and many other factors. The process of Annual Programme Review encourages programme convenors to reflect on whether changes are necessary over the coming year.
All changes to programmes, however minor, should be approved by committee. Most can be approved at Faculty level, by including details of the changes proposed on the Annual Programme Report form. These forms are reviewed by the Associate Dean, who may ask for further information before the proposal is presented to Faculty Learning and Teaching Committee for approval; or may instead judge that the proposal amounts to major change.

Major changes to programmes require the approval of LTQC. A department which has agreed to seek major changes to a programme should submit the proposal in good time to Faculty Learning and Teaching Committee on the Withdrawal/Amendment Form. The minimum requirement for supporting documentation is an amended programme specification, and the Associate Dean may request further information if it is thought necessary. Proposals for major changes follow the same procedure as for new programme proposals, being considered by FLTC and JFPP before a recommendation is made to LTQC on final approval. LTQC reports any generic implications of its approval of major changes to Academic Board.

Changes should be considered ‘major’ when they alter the substantive content of a programme. Major amendments to programmes are defined as those which include one or more of the following:

  • changes to the intended learning outcomes of the programme
  • introduction of a year abroad or significant changes to existing arrangements
  • changes to core (or compulsory) courses: addition or removal of such course requirements, significant changes in course content or assessment methods, or a change from one course to another
  • addition or withdrawal of a large number of optional courses at once (six, or fewer if they constitute half or more of the options available to students)
  • introduction of pathways leading to differently named awards (while maintaining a single programme title for application, registration and enrolment: see below)
  • changes in the mode of delivery: e.g. introduction of a distance learning element or time spent at a partner institution.

Departments sometime wish to introduce ‘pathways’, to divide a programme into strands (for instance for different regions). One advantage of this is for marketing and recruitment. Students apply and register for one of a number of named pathways, e.g. BA Classics (Greek) or BA Classics (Latin), follow a prescribed set of courses and graduate with the appropriate degree title. This means that new programmes are created and the usual procedure for the proposal of a new programme must be followed for each. It is usual to retain the existing, broader degree as well ('BA Classics') and sometimes minor or major amendments are required to this programme to accommodate the new structure.

It is possible to introduce pathways as a major amendment and without creating new programmes, but in this case all students apply and are registered for the single degree. Students still follow prescribed pathways in terms of courses taken, but the pathway followed is indicated by a differentiated degree title only on graduation. This does not bring the same advantages in marketing terms, and (as will be seen from the above procedures for major amendments) is not significantly easier in procedural terms.

Departments considering the potential benefits of pathways in one of their degree programmes are advised to consult widely: Registry, Quality Assurance, Marketing and Recruitment should all be involved.

A5 Programme withdrawal

Programmes which are no longer offered, and which a department does not anticipate offering again in the near future, should be withdrawn. A department which has agreed to seek the withdrawal of a programme should submit the Withdrawal/Amendment Form to Faculty Learning and Teaching Committee, which will decide whether or not to recommend the withdrawal of the programme to LTQC. LTQC will decide whether or not a programme should be withdrawn.

A6 Course approval

New courses are considered for approval by Faculty Learning and Teaching Committees. A department (or appropriate centre/institute) wishing to propose a new course should complete and submit the form below to the FLTC. No Course will be permitted to run if it has not been approved through this process:

Please note that the following amendments are considered to be major and must be completed as a new Course Approval:

  • Amendments to the credit value of existing course
  • Amendments to the FHEQ level of an existing course
  • Amendments to the department ownership of a course

A7 Course changes

Course amendments are considered for approval by Faculty Learning and Teaching Committees. Major changes need to be completed on the Course Approval Form (see A6 above). Minor changes need to be completed on one of the following forms:

Minor Course Amendments include:

  • Amendments to the Course description/content
  • Amendments to the Course availability
  • Amendments to the Course status
  • Amendments to the teaching and learning pattern
  • Amendments to the assessment
  • Amendments to the Course title

Changes to courses cannot normally be approved retrospectively. In exceptional circumstances such cases should be forwarded to the Chair of the appropriate FLTC with a written statement from the Head of Department of the reasons for seeking retrospective approval. The statement should include evidence that all the students on the course have signed a document agreeing to the changes, or evidence that the details of the course in its amended form were in the documentation or electronic information supplied to students at the beginning of the course. In the latter case, an explanation should be provided as to why the documentation or electronic information supplied to students did not reflect the approved version of the course.

Non-Faculty Programmes

Centres, professional services directorates and other sections of the School which do not belong to a Faculty may propose courses, and should contact the Quality Assurance Manager for advice when planning to do so. LTQC has approved a procedure for their consideration whereby scrutiny of a course approval form and supporting documentation is delegated to a panel consisting of academic and student members from across the School. The panel will carry out all parts of the procedure which would otherwise be undertaken by an FLTC, and will make a recommendation to JFPP regarding approval of the proposal.

A8 Course withdrawal

Courses which are no longer offered, and which a department does not anticipate offering again in the near future, should be withdrawn using the Course Withdrawal Form. It is the School’s policy to withdraw courses which have repeatedly failed to attract a minimum number of students (these quotas are set by Faculties).

Course Withdrawal Forms should be submitted to the appropriate Faculty Learning and Teaching Committee for approval. A Course withdrawal form will also need to be completed in the following circumstances:

  • Where a new Course supersedes a current course and the current course is to be withdrawn
  • An amendment to the credit level
  • An amendment to the FHEQ level
  • A change of department ownership of a current course