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United-Kingdom-England:Bachelor

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Overview United Kingdom (England)

Contents

United-Kingdom-England:Political, Social and Economic Background and Trends

United-Kingdom-England:Historical Development

United-Kingdom-England:Main Executive and Legislative Bodies

United-Kingdom-England:Population: Demographic Situation, Languages and Religions

United-Kingdom-England:Political and Economic Situation

United-Kingdom-England:Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-England:Fundamental Principles and National Policies

United-Kingdom-England:Lifelong Learning Strategy

United-Kingdom-England:Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure

United-Kingdom-England:Organisation of Private Education

United-Kingdom-England:National Qualifications Framework

United-Kingdom-England:Administration and Governance at Central and/or Regional Level

United-Kingdom-England:Administration and Governance at Local and/or Institutional Level

United-Kingdom-England:Statistics on Organisation and Governance

United-Kingdom-England:Funding in Education

United-Kingdom-England:Early Childhood and School Education Funding

United-Kingdom-England:Higher Education Funding

United-Kingdom-England:Adult Education and Training Funding

United-Kingdom-England:Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-England:Organisation of Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-England:Teaching and Learning in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-England:Assessment in Programmes for Children over 2-3 years

United-Kingdom-England:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-England:Primary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Organisation of Primary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Teaching and Learning in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Assessment in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures in Primary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Teaching and Learning in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Assessment in General Lower Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Organisation of General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Teaching and Learning in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Assessment in General Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Organisation of Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Teaching and Learning in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Assessment in Vocational Upper Secondary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

United-Kingdom-England:Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Types of Higher Education Institutions

United-Kingdom-England:First Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-England:Bachelor

United-Kingdom-England:Short-Cycle Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Second Cycle Programmes

United-Kingdom-England:Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master Structure

United-Kingdom-England:Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

United-Kingdom-England:Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Distribution of Responsibilities

United-Kingdom-England:Developments and Current Policy Priorities

United-Kingdom-England:Main Providers

United-Kingdom-England:Main Types of Provision

United-Kingdom-England:Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning

United-Kingdom-England:Teachers and Education Staff

United-Kingdom-England:Initial Education for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Conditions of Service for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers Working in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Initial Education for Academic Staff in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Conditions of Service for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Continuing Professional Development for Academic Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Initial Education for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Conditions of Service for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Continuing Professional Development for Teachers and Trainers Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Management and Other Education Staff

United-Kingdom-England:Management Staff for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Staff Involved in Monitoring Educational Quality for Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Education Staff Responsible for Guidance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Other Education Staff or Staff Working with Schools

United-Kingdom-England:Management Staff for Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Management Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Other Education Staff or Staff Working in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Quality Assurance

United-Kingdom-England:Quality Assurance in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Quality Assurance in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Quality Assurance in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Educational Support and Guidance

United-Kingdom-England:Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education

United-Kingdom-England:Separate Special Education Needs Provision in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Support Measures for Learners in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Guidance and Counselling in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Support Measures for Learners in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Guidance and Counselling in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Support Measures for Learners in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Guidance and Counselling in a Lifelong Learning Approach

United-Kingdom-England:Mobility and Internationalisation

United-Kingdom-England:Mobility in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Mobility in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Mobility in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Early Childhood and School Education

United-Kingdom-England:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Adult Education and Training

United-Kingdom-England:Bilateral Agreements and Worldwide Cooperation

United-Kingdom-England:Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments

United-Kingdom-England:National Reforms in Early Childhood Education and Care

United-Kingdom-England:National Reforms in School Education

United-Kingdom-England:National Reforms in Vocational Education and Training and Adult Learning

United-Kingdom-England:National Reforms in Higher Education

United-Kingdom-England:National Reforms related to Transversal Skills and Employability

United-Kingdom-England:European Perspective

United-Kingdom-England:Legislation

United-Kingdom-England:Glossary

Branches of Study

Bachelor’s degrees with honours are the largest group of first cycle programmes (undergraduate programmes). They are often known as honours degrees, or as first degrees (though not all first degrees are bachelor’s; some are master’s). Bachelor’s degrees can also be awarded without honours (see the subheading below on ‘Certification’).

Programmes leading to a bachelor’s degree are normally of three or four years’ duration for full-time students. Three years is the most common duration but some programmes add a 'sandwich' or placement year (usually spent in work experience or as a year abroad, the latter being common for languages degrees). 

Higher education institutions (HEIs) which hold degree awarding powers are responsible for the design of their own programmes and awards.

In designing bachelor degree programmes, HEIs refer to the qualification descriptor for a higher education qualification at level 6 on the FHEQ: bachelor's degree with honours.  This describes the threshold academic standard for the qualification in terms of the levels of knowledge and understanding and the types of abilities that holders of this qualification are expected to have. HEIs also refer to subject benchmark statements which set out expectations about standards of degrees in a range of subject areas. These statements describe what gives a discipline its coherence and identity, and define what can be expected of a graduate in terms of the abilities and skills needed to develop understanding or competence in the subject. Subject Benchmark Statements exist for a range of honours degree subjects and some combine or make reference to professional standards required by external professional or regulatory bodies in the relevant discipline. 

Qualification descriptors and subject benchmark statements form part of the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ, available here) (see Chapter A1: UK and European Reference Points for Academic Standards of the Quality Code). 

The FHEQ is a framework based on the outcomes represented by the main qualification titles but it is not an integrated credit and qualifications framework, nor is its use dependent on credit. However most HEIs in England also use credit-based systems, alongside the FHEQ. Of these, some use ECTS. UK credit frameworks (other than ECTS) all operate according to the same underpinning principles; for example 10 notional hours of learning equate to one credit and 120 credits to a volume of learning that a learner in the first cycle will spend, on average, to achieve the specified learning outcomes in an academic year. Bachelor’s degrees awarded with honours have a typical total volume of at least 360 credits. Guidance on the use of credit in the design of programmes is provided by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) in the Quality Code for Higher Education (Academic Credit falls within Part A, ‘Setting and maintaining academic standards’). 

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) provides details via its website of the wide variety of different courses offered. Programmes typically focus on a particular subject area, but there are also combined studies programmes involving two, or possibly three, specialisations. There is also normally choice within each programme. Typically, a relatively fixed menu of modules covers the core knowledge of the subject, and is combined with a menu of options in the more specialised aspects of the subject area.

Note that the terminology used in this area varies considerably, as higher education is a diverse sector made up of autonomous providers which use different approaches to the definition of academic regulations. Some of these different approaches can be summarised as follows: 

  • A student registers on a course made up of compulsory modules and optional modules that leads to the award of a qualification.  
  • A student registers on a programme made up of compulsory modules and optional modules that leads to the award of a qualification.  
  • A student registers on a course that awards credit that can be counted towards a qualification. 

For a more detailed consideration of the variety of interpretations and models that exist across the sector, see the December 2011 report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), What is a Course … or Programme or Route or Pathway or Learning Opportunity… 

Although many institutions offer courses across the full range of subject areas, some specialise in certain fields, such as music, art or business. Institutions which were originally set up as institutes of technology (for example), which subsequently gained university title, tend to retain a strong focus on their original specialism. The Government, in its annual grant letter for 2015/16, has instructed the Higher Education Founding Council for England (HEFCE) to endeavour to protect funding for high cost subjects (notably to enable high quality STEM provision), and for widening participation and small and specialist institutions. 

Admission Requirements

Admissions Policies and Entry Requirements 

Institutions determine their own admissions policies and the minimum entry requirements for each programme. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) coordinates admissions services across the UK. UCAS is funded by participating higher education institutions (HEIs) and from the fees paid by each applicant. In collaboration with the UK higher education sector, UCAS has developed the ‘UCAS Tariff’, a means of allocating points to post-16 qualifications used for entry to higher education. This was developed to allow HEIs to make broad comparisons about the wide range of qualifications and to help them with their management information. HEIs are not obliged to express their entry requirements in terms of tariff points. Those that do may additionally require some or all of the qualifications for entry to be in specific subjects and at specific grades.  

For undergraduate/first cycle programmes, the minimum entry requirement is usually two or three General Certificate of Education Advanced level (GCE A level) passes, as well as a minimum number of General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) passes at grade C or above. These remain the most common form of entry qualification held by young entrants to higher education. A wide range of other qualifications is acceptable for entry. They include the International Baccalaureate and some vocational options such as GCE A levels in applied subjects and Pearson (formerly Edexcel) BTEC National Qualifications

Most applicants submit their higher education applications before taking end-of-course examinations and HEIs make most offers of places conditional upon the applicant achieving at least a specified number of points, which may stipulate particular grades or levels of pass in key subjects. To decide who should receive offers, HEI admissions officers typically use applicants’ known results in GCSE and/or AS level examinations (Advanced Subsidiary level, an examination at a higher level than GCSE but with a smaller course content than an A level) to assess their potential, alongside personal statements, school references and teachers’ predictions of likely grades. Most HEIs do not routinely interview applicants for most programmes. However, applicants for entry to professional and vocational programmes (such as initial teaching training and medicine) are usually required to attend a selection interview, as are all applicants to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
 
Entry is competitive, with wide variations between institutions and programmes in terms of the competition for places. For some highly oversubscribed programmes, such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and law, applicants may be required to take an additional admissions test. Examples of such tests include the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) and the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). Since 2013, all applicants for initial teacher training courses have been required to pass skills tests in numeracy and literacy before starting their courses. 

Information for applicants on programmes and entry requirements is available from UCAS, and guidance for HEIs exists in the form of Chapter B2 of the Quality Code, ‘Recruitment, Selection and Admission to Higher Education’.

Facilitating access to higher education for disadvantaged and underrepresented groups 

Each individual institution has autonomy over the qualifications that it will accept for entry to its courses.

At the same time, the broad policy objectives of widening participation and ensuring fair access have been a focus for government policy over several decades. In his 2010 report, Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access, traced this policy direction back to the Robbins report of 1963, which rejected the concept of a limited pool of ability and argued that higher education was an important compensator for social disadvantage.

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is an independent regulator which was established under the Higher Education Act 2004 to ensure that the introduction of higher tuition fees in 2006/07 did not deter people from entering higher education for financial reasons, and that HEIs were explicitly committed to increasing participation in higher education among under-represented groups. OFFA views fair access as providing everyone who has the potential and ambition to succeed in higher education with equal opportunity and support to do so, regardless of background, family income or disability. OFFA and HEFCE cooperated to produce a National Strategy for Access and Student Success in Higher Education (2014), which was published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). For a description of how OFFA works to promote fair access, see the subheading ‘Undergraduate (first cycle) tuition fees’ in the article on ‘Higher Education Funding’.

See also the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)’s student access and success web pages for details of its policy and past initiatives in these areas. These include a suite of reports published in July 2015, which examined the success of the higher education system to date in securing increased access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and for disabled students and in reducing the number of students that withdraw early from their studies, and highlighted the challenges that remain.

For mature learners, who may lack formal qualifications, there are various well-established routes into higher education. Many institutions give credit for prior study and informal learning acquired through work or other experiences, called ‘Accreditation of Prior Learning’ (APL) or ‘Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning’ (APEL). Arrangements for APL and APEL vary between individual HEIs. Again, institutions have autonomy in this respect; the QAA Quality Code chapter on admissions (chapter B2) does not specify the criteria to be used for selection, but encourages each institution to ensure that its own policies and procedures are transparent, explicit and communicated effectively. 

The Access to Higher Education Diploma provides an alternative fast-track route designed to meet the needs of those returning to study after some time and who may lack formal qualifications. See also the subheading ‘Provision to Achieve a Recognised Qualification during Adulthood’ in the ‘Adult Education and Training’ chapter.

Student number control 

From the 2015-16 academic year, there is no cap on the number of students that any institution funded by HEFCE may admit. This policy commitment, which aimed to ensure that anyone with the right qualifications can study at university, was confirmed by the new Government in its productivity plan, Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation, published by HM Treasury on 12 July 2015. The same plan also included a commitment to freeing up student number controls for the best alternative providers by introducing a performance pool of places from 2016-17.

Prior to 2015-16, HEFCE set student number controls for each institution. A history of student number controls in England is available here

Curriculum

There is no national curriculum for higher education, and higher education providers decide what programmes to offer within the context of their organisational mission and other strategic factors. These factors may include government policy to stimulate economic growth and to support high cost subjects including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (‘STEM subjects’), an assessment of student demand for existing and new programmes, and advice from external bodies such as employers and industry about workforce needs. Providers that hold degree awarding powers (DAP) design their own programmes with reference to the Quality Assurance Agency’s (QAA) Quality Code for Higher Education, chapter B1 of which provides guidance on programme design and approval. Providers without their own DAP do not design their own programmes, but may act as delivery organisations working with degree-awarding bodies. 

While institutions with DAPs have the autonomy to design and develop their own programmes of study, they are expected to comply with the specifications for threshold academic standards set out in the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ, available here) for programmes at the relevant level of the framework. QAA provides subject benchmark statements which set out expectations about standards of degrees in a range of subject areas. They describe what gives a discipline its coherence and identity, and define what can be expected of a graduate in terms of the abilities and skills needed to develop understanding or competence in the subject. The statements are intended to assist those involved in programme design, delivery and review. They are integral to the QAA’s Quality Code for Higher Education - Part A: Setting and maintaining academic standards.

Teaching Methods

Teaching methods are decided by the individual teacher, department, faculty or institution, or a combination of these. They may include the following, depending on the subject, mode of delivery and institution:

  • lecture: a presentation or talk on a particular topic
  • seminar: a discussion or classroom session that focuses on a particular topic or project
  • webinar: a virtual lecture or seminar
  • tutorial: a meeting that involves one-to-one or small group supervision, feedback or detailed discussion on a particular topic or project
  • project supervision: a meeting with a supervisor to discuss a particular piece of work
  • demonstration: a session in which a practical technique or skill is demonstrated
  • practical class or workshop: a session involving the acquisition, through practical application, of a particular skill or technique
  • supervised time in studio/workshop: time in which students work independently but under supervision, in a specialist facility such as a studio or workshop
  • fieldwork: practical work conducted at an external site
  • external visit: a visit to a location away from the usual learning spaces, to experience a particular environment, event, or exhibition relevant to the course of study
  • work-based and placement learning: learning that takes place in the workplace.

Source: Explaining staff teaching qualifications: Guidance about providing information for students

Chapter B3 of the QAA Quality Code focuses on the learning opportunities that higher education providers make available to students and on the staff who teach and support learning. It states the expectation that:

Higher education providers, working with their staff, students and other stakeholders, articulate and systematically review and enhance the provision of learning opportunities and teaching practices, so that every student is enabled to develop as an independent learner, study their chosen subject(s) in depth and enhance their capacity for analytical, critical and creative thinking.

The new Conservative Government which took office in May 2015 has placed a renewed focus on teaching in higher education and is working to introduce a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to mirror the excellence framework which already exists for university-based research. It is intended that the TEF will include a clear set of outcome-focused criteria and metrics, underpinned by an external assessment process undertaken by an independent quality body. The stated aims for the TEF are:

  • to ensure all students receive an excellent teaching experience that encourages original thinking, drives up engagement and prepares them for the world of work
  • to build a culture where teaching has equal status with research, putting teachers on a par with researchers in terms of professional recognition and opportunities for career and pay progression 
  • to stimulate a diverse higher education market and provide students with the information they need to judge teaching quality, in the same way as they can already compare a faculty’s research rating
  • to recognise those institutions that do the most to welcome students from a range of backgrounds and support their retention and progression to further study or a graduate job.

The plans were outlined in a ministerial speech in July 2015 and developed in the Green Paper Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice, which was published in November 2015. Consultation on the paper runs until January 2016.

Flexible learning – accessing education in a way that is responsive in pace, place and/or mode of delivery and often supported by the use of credit accumulation and transfer – is available and can include the use of technology to enable:

  • remote or online study
  • work-based learning and employer engagement
  • part-time learning
  • accelerated or decelerated programmes
  • distance or blended learning.

The HEA provides a range of resources for HEIs developing flexible provision.

Open and distance learning is also increasingly available. The Open University, which specialises in ‘open supported learning’, admitted its first students in 1971 and is now a major provider of distance learning and the UK’s largest university in terms of student numbers (over 187,000 in 2013/14). Other institutions also increasingly offer courses on this basis. The Open University is also involved in the provision of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs, courses offered free, online and at scale), through its company FutureLearn, launched in 2013. Over 50 university partners, more than half of which are in the UK, offer such courses through FutureLearn. In 2014 the HEA published a report describing and reviewing the provision of MOOCs in the UK entitled The Pedagogy of the Massive Open Online Course: the UK View, and in 2015 QAA published MOOCs_and_Quality:_a_Review_of_the_Recent_Literature

Progression of Students

Each institution has its own regulations governing student progression within a programme. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) provides guidance in its UK Quality Code for Higher Education, Chapter B6: ‘Assessment of Students and Accreditation of Prior Learning’. The Code recommends that each institution should publicise and implement clear rules and regulations for progressing from one stage of a programme to another and for qualifying for an award. Guidance at institutional and programme level that includes reference to the following can support implementation of this recommendation:

  • the extent to which a student’s overall success in a programme can include failure in part of the programme, where this is permitted by institutional rules and regulations. In modular systems, guidance can helpfully distinguish between core and optional modules and include details about any modules that must be passed to meet Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body requirements. It is important to ensure that students receiving an award have achieved or exceeded the learning outcomes for the programme  
  • defining which marks contribute to the decision about whether a student receives an award  
  • clarifying on what basis retakes or resubmissions can occur, making clear the number and timing permitted and the accompanying procedures, for example: resitting examinations; resubmitting a dissertation; repeating a work-based or other type of practical assessment; or repeating an oral examination  
  • the rules for deferring or not completing an assessment, together with any special assessment conditions or penalties that may apply, including any restriction on the marks, grades or levels of award that can be obtained on the basis of retaken or deferred assessments. It is helpful if such rules cover a wide range of circumstances, including any progression permitted or awards conferred because of a student's absence due to illness or other personal circumstances. Any time limit for completing the course should be clearly stated.

Employability

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has defined employability as ‘a set of attributes, skills and knowledge that all labour market participants should possess to ensure that they have the capability of being effective in the workplace – to the benefit of themselves, their employer and the wider economy’. This definition is cited in Future Fit: Preparing Graduates for the World of Work, a 2009 joint publication from Universities UK and the CBI, illustrating how universities and business can work together to help equip graduates for their future working lives. 

There have been a number of inquiries and reports addressing business and university interaction, and analysing the barriers to such interaction, in recent years. These have found that differences across industry sectors and across higher education institutions (HEIs) mean there is no single model of effective collaboration. Some notable reports include:

  • A Review of Business-University Collaboration (Wilson, 2012) which called for universities to be at the heart of the economy, to promote growth in the UK and to improve the employability of graduates. The report recommended increasing opportunities for students to acquire relevant work experience, for example through sandwich degree programmes, internships and work‐based programmes. The government’s response set out initiatives to promote employability skills, research and innovation, work placements and internships, and university-business collaboration at the local level.
  • The House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee published Business-University Collaboration (2014), which called for a coordinated strategy to improve information flows between universities and business and to provide spaces for collaboration to take place. The Government’s response to the report, published in 2015, reiterated its commitment to supporting all forms of knowledge exchange, including recurrent funding for knowledge exchange through the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). HEIF is a partnership between the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which supports institutions to engage in a broad range of activities with business, public sector and community partners.
  • In September 2014, Universities UK and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) published Forging Futures: Building Higher Level Skills through University and Employer Collaboration, which explored innovative collaborations between universities and employers to create alternative pathways and opportunities for the development of relevant higher level skills.

In its productivity plan, Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation, published by HM Treasury in July 2015, the Government stated its intention to support universities in collaborating with industry and commercialising research, responding to the Dowling Review of Business-University Research Collaborations, for information on which see the ‘Employability’ subheading in the articles on ‘Second Cycle Programmes’ and ‘Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes’. 

Degree apprenticeships are sector-specific frameworks which integrate study at degree or diploma level (levels 5-7 of the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ, available here)) with structured work-based learning focused on National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), NVQ vocational units and key skills units. The aim is to enhance entry into the labour market through a framework of learning opportunities. The expansion of degree-equivalent Higher Level Apprenticeships was announced in the government’s Plan for Growth (BIS, 2011); in 2013/14, according to a House of Commons Research Briefing, 9200 individuals commenced Higher Level Apprenticeships (2% of all apprenticeship starts). Subjects in which such qualifications are available include law, accountancy and advanced engineering. 

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) ran a consultation during 2015 on A dual mandate for adult vocational education, exploring the role of HEIs in delivering higher technical and professional training options such as higher or degree level apprenticeships. The consultation document illustrated models of higher vocational education delivered by some HEIs to complement local employers’ existing vocational training programmes. Responses to the consultation are being analysed as of autumn 2015.

All institutions in England provide a careers service for students. Advisers usually take a student through the careers choices that they can follow with their degree and the direction they can take. They should discuss career opportunities such as graduate placements, further study opportunities, careers fairs and job opportunities abroad. Students can still contact the service after graduation and may be referred to a university closer to where they then live. University careers services may also offer free CV workshops, internet access, coaching on interview techniques and support with job application forms. Careers fairs provide graduates with information and give them an opportunity to meet potential employers. 

Careers services can receive support by subscribing to the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), an independent research charity that works as an agency of the higher education representative bodies Universities UK and GuildHE. HECSU also conducts and commissions research on student and graduate career development and employment.  

Chapter B4 of the QAA Quality Code, ‘Enabling Student Development and Achievement’, addresses the ways in which higher education providers enable students to develop and achieve their academic, personal and professional potential. Student achievements other than academic achievements may be recorded using the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), which is described below under the subheading ‘Certification’.

Student Assessment

Assessment procedures are decided by the individual institution. They typically involve a variety of modes of assessment, which may include examinations, essays, multiple-choice tests, reflective journals, peer assessment, portfolios, and assessment of performance and creative work. QAA provides guidance on good practice in its Quality Code for Higher Education, Chapter B6, which covers all forms of assessment used in the context of taught provision. Its publication Explaining staff teaching qualifications: Guidance about providing information for students provides an indicative list of assessment methods:

  • written examination: a question or set of questions relating to a particular area of study
  • written assignment, including essay: an exercise completed in writing in the student's own time
  • report: a description, summary or other account of an experience or activity
  • dissertation: an extended piece of written work, usually for purposes of summative assessment
  • portfolio: a compilation of coursework produced in response to specific assessment briefs
  • project outputs: the products of project work, often of a practical nature (excluding report/ dissertation)
  • oral assessment/presentation: a conversation or oral presentation on a given topic
  • practical skills assessment: assessment of a student's practical skills or competence
  • group critique: a method of receiving feedback from both tutors and peers
  • set exercises: questions or tasks designed to assess the application of knowledge or of analytical, problem-solving or evaluative skills.

External examining provides one of the principal means for maintaining nationally comparable standards within autonomous higher education institutions. The assessment procedures include the appointment of one or more external examiners for each subject. Their role is to give an additional opinion on the performance of candidates for degrees and thus ensure compatibility of standards between universities, and that the examination system and the award of degree classifications is fairly operated. These examiners are usually senior members of the teaching staff of a similar department in another university. QAA provides guidance in its Quality Code for Higher Education (chapter B7). See also the subheading ‘External Examining’ in the article on ‘Quality Assurance in Higher Education’. 

Certification

Subject to the status of their degree awarding powers (see the ‘Types of Higher Education Institutions’ article) institutions are responsible for their own awards, the conditions on which they are awarded and qualification titles. 

Guidance is provided by the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ, available here), developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).  The FHEQ forms part of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education - Part A: Setting and maintaining academic standards

The Framework includes qualification descriptors that set out the generic outcomes and attributes expected for the award of bachelor’s degrees. Qualification titles for bachelor’s degrees include:  

  • Bachelor of Arts, abbreviated to BA   
  • Bachelor of Science, abbreviated to BSc   
  • Bachelor of Education, abbreviated to BEd. 

Institutions traditionally use the same system of classifying (i.e. grading) student attainment in programmes leading to a bachelor’s degree with honours. The honours degree classification system has four points on the honours degree scale: first class; second class, which is subdivided into upper second (2:1) and lower second (2:2); and third class. In addition, institutions may award a ‘pass’ degree, which does not carry honours, or a fail. 

Bachelor’s degrees awarded with honours may be designated thus:  BA (Hons), BSc (Hons), etc. 

In recent years there has been debate about replacing the honours degree classification system, such as by adopting a grade point average (GPA) system as used in the USA. Although a widely acceptable alternative has not been found, a complementary initiative has gained acceptance. In 2007, the sector representative bodies Universities UK and GuildHE published Beyond the Honours Degree Classification: the Burgess Group Final Report. This recommended the introduction of a new Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), building upon the European Diploma Supplement (a document accompanying a higher education diploma, providing a standardised description of the nature, level, context, content and status of the studies completed by its holder), to enable institutions to provide a more comprehensive record of student achievement. The HEAR is an electronic document providing a record of  students’ achievement during their time in higher education as well as an overall summative judgement – whether the honours degree classification, grade point average or any other – verified by the institution. The HEAR follows the structure of the Diploma Supplement but in its purpose and timing provides a different emphasis. It was launched in 2008 (with 18 institutions) and by 2015, 32 institutions had issued 427,000 HEARs to students. From 2012/13, the sector representative bodies Universities UK and GuildHE recommended its introduction by all member organisations and as of 2015, 90 universities and colleges have implemented or are planning to implement the HEAR. The Higher Education Academy (HEA) provides the national support for the implementation and maintenance of the HEAR. 


Information on legislation referenced in articles about England is available here. A glossary of terms can be found here.