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Glossary of Terms relating to Course Specifications

Academic Infrastructure

A set of documents published by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education which guide Higher Education Institutions in their approach to learning and teaching and are intended to safeguard the quality and standards of courses and awards. The Academic Infrastructure includes: the QAA’s Code of Practice, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications, Subject Benchmark Statements, course specifications and student progress files.

Additional Learning Opportunities

Distinctive features of the course which may not be available to, or achieved by, all students, such as an intercalated year or year abroad, language options, work experience opportunities, …

Code of Practice

The Code of Practice provides guidelines on good practice relating to the management of academic standards and quality of teaching. Each section of the Code of practice has precepts or principles that institutions should satisfy, with guidance on how they might meet these precepts. The Code has 10 sections, which can be found on the QAA website.

Course Aims

Course aims reflect the overall aims of each taught course of study; the wider objectives of the course, its academic scope and distinctive features.

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.

Formative Assessment

Coursework which does not contribute to final degree classification, but is undertaken for developmental purposes. Formative assignments, essays or presentations may be required of students in order for staff to provide them with feedback prior to students undertaking a piece of assessed work which counts towards the student’s degree classification.

Framework for Higher Education Qualifications

Comprises a series of level descriptors setting out capabilities and transferable skills acquired by students completing an award at one of the five levels articulated:

  • Certificate (Certificate in HE)
  • Intermediate (Foundation Degree or Diploma in HE)
  • Honours (Bachelor’s degree)
  • Master’s (Master’s degree, taught or by research)
  • Doctoral (PhD or MPhil)

Descriptions for each of these levels are available on the QAA’s website at:

Learning outcomes

The skills and knowledge a student will possess upon successful completion of a course. Learning outcomes as set out in Warwick course specifications are divided into four categories:

1. Subject knowledge and understanding;

2. Subject-specific skills are practical skills, practice of which is integral to the course, e.g. laboratory skills, language skills, counselling skills;

3. Cognitive skills, intellectual skills such as an understanding of methodologies, synthesis, evaluation or ability in critical analysis;

4. Key skills are skills that are readily transferable to employment in other contexts, such as written and oral communication, working within a team, problem solving, numeracy and IT skills.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

The QAA is an independent body established to safeguard the public interest in sound standards of higher education qualifications and to encourage continuous improvement in the management of the quality of higher education. The QAA conducts reviews of standards and quality in universities and develops reference points that help to define clear and explicit standards, as set out by the ‘academic infrastructure’.

Subject Benchmark Statements

General expectations about the standards of achievement and general attributes to be expected of a graduate in a given subject area, written by the subject community. Benchmark statements only exist for Honours level subjects and Foundation Degrees, with the exception of Master’s in Business Management, Physics and Engineering. Subject Benchmark statements can be accessed from the QAA’s website at:

Summative Assessment

Assessed work which contributes to the final outcome of a student’s degree, such as unseen examinations, essays, dissertations or presentations.

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