Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Programme specification

core definition

A programme (program) specification documents the aims, objectives or learning outcomes, programme content, learning and teaching methods, process and criteria for assessment, usually with indicative reading or other reference material as well as identifying the modules or subunits of the programme, setting out core and optional elements, precursors and levels.

explanatory context

Programme specification may, in some settings, be referred to as a course specification. A module (or other programme sub-unit) specification is similar to programme specifications but should normally also identify how it relates to the overall programme specification.

analytical review

The University of Warwick (2011), for example, defines it thus:

Course specification: A description of the intended outcomes of learning from a higher education course of study (learning outcomes), how these outcomes are achieved (taught and learned) and demonstrated (assessed). A course specification should improve student understanding of how learning occurs on a particular course, what is being taught, and inform reflection upon personal learning, performance and achievement.


UMIST defines a programme specification as:

a concise statement about the intended learning outcomes from successful completion of a particular degree programme, and information about the teaching, learning and methods of assessment used which enable the learning outcomes to be achieved and demonstrated. It should help improve student understanding of how and when learning occurs, and of what is being learned, and promote reflection upon personal learning, performance and achievement.


The UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) (undated) states:

Programme specifications: Published statements about the intended learning outcomes of programmes of study, containing information about teaching and learning methods, support and assessment methods, and how individual units relate to levels of achievement.

The University of Southampton (2003, pt 1.4.1) defined programme specification and then elaborated what is expected:

A programme specification is a concise description of the intended outcomes of learning from a HE programme, and the means by which these outcomes are achieved and demonstrated. It is primarily a mechanism for enabling students to understand what a programme may enable them to achieve and how such achievement is realized through the learning, teaching and assessment methods on offer. It should also indicate what successful achievement leads to, be it professional recognition, particular career paths, or further study.

Programme specifications should assist students in making their choice of what and where to study. As such, they may in time become a key vehicle for marketing and recruitment activity.

A specification should be available for each programme of study available that leads to a named award. All types of programme should be covered including single or major subject programmes, joint programmes, inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary programmes where the former brings together several subjects with integrated learning outcomes and the latter is most likely created by students choosing units within the design rules of a scheme. Specifications should be written for awards at all levels of higher education from certificates of higher education to taught doctoral awards.

It is expected that the establishment of programme specifications, whilst clearly meeting the need for public information, will provide a stimulus to teaching teams to reflect on the aims and learning outcomes of their programmes.

Programme specifications are expected to be used not only for incoming and prospective students, but also for employers particularly in relation to the skills development a programme affords, for professional and regulatory bodies, for HE institutions themselves particularly as a reference point for internal review, and for academic reviewers and external examiners.

The production of programme specifications should utilize benchmark statements, the national qualifications framework, professional and regulatory bodies accreditation requirements where applicable, as external reference points.

A good programme specification will improve student understanding of how and when learning occurs, and of what is being learned, and thereby inform reflection upon personal learning, performance and achievement, and subsequent planning for educational and career development.

associated issues


related areas

See also

academic infrastructure

learning outcomes



Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), undated, Glossary, available at, accessed 8 January 2017, not available 20 June 2019.

University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), 2001, Annex 1: Glossary, UM/DG/005, posted 30/08/01, not availale 5 September 2012.

University of Southampton, 2003, Learning and Teaching Strategy, section 1.4.1, available at, no longer accessible 10 October 2012.

University of Warwick, 2011, Course Specifications: Glossary of Terms relating to Course Specifications, last revised 18 October 2011 , accessed 7 September 2012, still available 20 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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