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Key terms in academic assurance

There are several key terms for new Governors to be aware of, especially for those joining a board from outside of higher education.

Key terms

Academic Board/Senate The role of the Academic Board is to approve academic policies, oversee the academic standards and quality of the academic activity, authorise awards of the institution, appoint external examiners and provide advice to the vice-chancellor on the strategic direction of the institutions academic activity. This Board may have a different name, albeit the same function, in different institutions eg in further education colleges delivering higher education. 

Academic Freedom protected under UK law which means that HEIs have a duty "to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs, or privileges they may have at their institutions".  

Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE)  currently the source of employability data – DLHE collects information on the graduate labour market and what all leavers from higher education programmes are doing six months after qualifying from their higher education course. Note also Longitudinal Education outcomes, below.

Franchising from another provider A ‘franchise course’ is a course subject to an agreement by one institution (usually a provider with degree awarding powers) that another organisation may deliver all or part of a programme approved and owned by the first institution. The franchising institution retains overall and ultimate control of the programme's content, delivery, assessment and quality assurance arrangements. This includes fee setting, data collection, quality assurance, and dealing with complaints. Generally, if an awarding provider is in a franchise relationship with a delivery provider, the students' academic relationship is with the awarding provider, and the same quality assurance arrangements will apply as for provision delivered by the awarding provider. A further education college may franchise its higher education programmes from one or more university.   

Further Education College (FEC) a further education college providing courses to students, which may include provision at higher education level.

Quality reviews of higher education providers conducted by the QAA. The QAA carries out reviews using a variety of methods. The method used depends on a number of factors, including where a provider is bas​ed; whether they are a university, further education college or other type of provider; and t​he type of higher education qualifications​ that they offer.​​

Institutional Autonomy implies freedom from direct government control, and the success of UK higher education is often linked to such autonomy. The governing body is the legal personification of a higher education institution and is therefore crucial to autonomy.  

The Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) A data is a set of official statistics on employment and earnings outcomes of higher education graduates by degree subject studied and university attended.

National Student Survey gathers students’ opinions on the quality of their courses. The survey purpose is to contribute to public accountability, and help inform the choices of prospective students.

Quality Code was developed with the higher education sector, and is maintained and published on their behalf, by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). It sets out the expectations that all providers of UK higher education are required to meet. ​​  

Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (known as the TEF) aims to recognise and reward excellence in teaching and learning, and help inform prospective student choices within higher education. The outcomes (gold, silver, bronze) provide information to help prospective students choose where to study.  

Unistats is the official site that allows users to search for and compare data and information on courses in higher education institutions and HE courses in further education colleges across the UK.

Validation Some higher education providers may not have the power to award degrees, but may wish to offer a course leading to an award from a provider which does. To do this they can enter into a ‘validation arrangement’ with that provider. A validated course is described in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education as a module or programme which a degree-awarding body approves to contribute, or lead, to one of their awards. Students on the course normally have a direct relationship with the provider delivering the course.

The course is owned by the institution delivering the course but the degree awarding body is ultimately responsible for the academic standards of any awards granted in its name, and for the quality of the learning programme.

Additional useful terms

Assessment Sometimes used in place of the word examination to convey a more general usage - for example, ‘written examinations and other forms of assessment, including coursework’, or may be used interchangeably with the word examination.  

Award A degree, diploma or certificate (undergraduate or postgraduate) awarded following successful completion of a recognised programme of study.  

Condonement The process by which the institution, in consideration of the overall performance of a student, decides that, without incurring a penalty, a part of the programme that has been failed does not need to be retaken.  

Core module A module that must be both taken and passed.  

Co-requisite module A module that must be taken at the same time as another, specified, module.

Credit A quantified means of expressing equivalence of learning. Credit is awarded to a learner in recognition of the verified achievement of designated learning outcomes at a specified level. Under the UK credit system, one credit = 10 notional learning hours (this includes direct contact time, self-directed study and examination).  

Dissertation An ordered and critical exposition of existing knowledge in any field or part of a field of study. It may vary in length but does not normally exceed a specified number of words There will normally be evidence that the field has been surveyed thoroughly. A full bibliography and references would normally be required.  

Elective module A module that is not listed in the programme specification as a core, compulsory or optional module. Students may be permitted to take a limited number of elective modules towards their degree, subject to timetabling, academic or other considerations as specified by the relevant Assessment Sub Board (or the sub-board’s nominee).  

Essay A brief description, typically based on secondary sources, of a particular topic within a field of study.  

Examination An assessment or test which is counted towards an award conferred by the institution or which is employed as a means of checking a student’s progress on a programme of study (also known as summative and formative assessment). General and programme-specific regulations prescribe the conditions under which examinations take place and the methods and timing of assessment.  

Exit award An award, which is available to a candidate unable to meet the credit volume and/or credit level requirements for the award on which they are registered but nevertheless has completed a meaningful period of study and has satisfied the examiners that they have met identifiable learning outcomes.  

Formative assessment Assessment which is used in a developmental way to assist a student’s learning and which does not count towards the final mark of a module.  

Introductory module A module within a programme whose designated level falls below that designated for the level of the programme. It may be a pre-requisite for another module.

Learning outcomes Learning outcomes identify what a student will know, be able to do and be able to demonstrate by the end of a module or programme.  

Level An indicator of the relative demand, complexity and depth of learning and of learner autonomy. The QAA Framework for higher education qualifications sets out five levels (4, 5, 6, 7, and 8). Bachelors degrees are level 4 qualifications, Masters degrees are level 7 qualifications and PhDs and equivalent are level 8 qualifications).

Module A module is an individual element of a programme of study which is taught and examined under the approved regulations for that programme.  

Pre-requisite module A pre-requisite is a unit that a student must study before enrolling in the next, associated unit. Most commonly, this is because the pre-requisite unit gives the knowledge needed to take the next unit.  

Programme of study The approved curriculum followed by a student for a specified award upon which the student is registered.  

Reassessment A general term that encompasses any form of examination which is taken again because of failure. General regulations and individual programme regulations prescribe the conditions under which reassessment may take place. The term resit is also used to mean reassessment.  

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) A process for giving recognition to the skills and experience gained before starting a traditional programme of study. It normally involves collecting a portfolio of evidence and is often designed to allow an individual to gain entry without the usual entry qualifications, or to permit exemption from certain modules.  

Short Course A group of lectures / seminars / workshops / sessions with articulated learning outcomes, completion of which leads to a certificate of attendance and/or award of credit. 

Find out more about Academic Governance for new Governors

Academic Governance for new Governors