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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education

Specific Course Designation

Information for new applicants

Any new higher education providers wishing to apply for a review for the purposes of specific course designation should now access the information on the Office for Students' (OfS) website and follow this process.

Review handbook and guidance

​Higher Education Review (Alternative Providers) is QAA's principal review method for alternative providers. The Handbook gives guidance to providers preparing for, and taking part in, this type of review.

For reviews taking place after 1 September 2016 -
Higher Education Review (Alternative Providers) Handbook (July 2016)

For reviews taking place after 1 September 2017 -
Higher Education Review (Alternative Providers) Handbook (June 2017)

Educational Oversight and Specific Course Designation Fee Schedule 2018 (PDF, 55KB)

Annual monitoring

Alternative providers are required to submit an annual return each year between​ full reviews, and undergo monitoring visits.
The guidance note sets out full details of the process: Annual Monitoring for Specific Course Designation purposes​ (PDF, 204KB).

Providers should complete the annual return template (see below), and return this with the data return, which will be sent to you in advance when you are advised of the date for submission: Annex 2: Monitoring process annual return template​ (DOC, 32KB).

Useful resources

Preparing for a review

Responsibility checklists
One copy of this checklist should be completed for each partnership with an awarding body or awarding organisation and sent to QAA as part of the evidence base for the self-evaluation document. Please see below for information relating to Pearson provision.

Responsibilities checklist (DOC, 37KB)​

QAA and Pearson have jointly produced a standard responsibilities checklist for providers delivering Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) awarded by Pearson. QAA reviewers will use this standard checklist in respect of all such programmes, and the checklist should be submitted by providers that deliver Pearson provision.

Responsibilities checklist Pearson 2017 (DOC, 41KB)​

Guidance documents
As part of the preparation for the Higher Education Review (Alternative Providers) process, providers are usually invited to a briefing event. The presentation from the most recent briefing event can be found below, along with the Higher Education Toolkit, guidance for students, and more specific information for facilitators and Lead Student Representatives.

Alongside the information contained within the relevant review handbook, additional guidance for providers writing the self-evaluation document and Lead Student Representatives producing the student submission as part of the review process is available in the following documents.

Key reference points

Information about the UK Quality Code for Higher Education and other key reference points used in our review methods can be found in our section on Assuring standards and quality.​

Publishing information about reviews

We ask that providers use the approved wording given in the Guidance for providers on publishing information about Reviews for Specific Course Designation to describe their relationship with QAA, and to publicise information relating to their review by QAA.

Eligible providers can display a QAA Review Graphic either in addition to the approved wording or instead of it. Find out more about the QAA Review Graphic.