Designing a Degree Programme

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Academics are allowed some autonomy from the start of their career as they are able to design their own units and pick the topics to teach and choose resources and methods with which to teach them. However, approaching mid-career, you may collaborate with others to design an entire degree programme, in response to a quality assurance revalidation exercise, or because a new programme is required.

This article suggests the key issues to consider when designing a degree programme. It is vital to inform yourself about the procedures at your university as they vary considerably from place to place.

    Will students want to study it? 

One of the most important aspects is considering what makes the degree unique from similar courses within your university and elsewhere, and asking whether these aspects make it attractive to students. The ‘bottom line’ in twenty-first century academic life is whether the course will bring new students to the university. Students, especially from overseas, bring large fee incomes and if you can prove to your head of department or dean or faculty team that your proposed degree will bring in plenty of student income then it has a greater chance of running.

    Does it require new staff members? 

Designing a degree programme that requires input from existing colleagues within your university is best. Interdisciplinary work is encouraged in order to spread the teaching load across departments. A degree programme that requires the hiring of a number of new staff members will not be viewed favourably in the current climate, whereas one that makes use of existing resources within the institution will be.

    What learning outcomes and skills do you want students to develop? 

As when designing a single unit, it is important to be clear about what it is that you want students to achieve by the time they graduate. When single units are designed by a range of staff members, a degree programme can lack coherence. If you are in charge of designing the programme as a whole, it is vital to remember that you must have a view of the student experience across the programme.

    How much assessed work should they do?

You will usually have to work within set frameworks devised by your university or you may have an entirely free rein when it comes to devising assessment. As designer of the degree you must decide how students should be assessed and how much assessed work they ought to do. Assessment should be appropriate in content and length and also consistent across the programme, no matter what options are chosen.

    Will the course be accredited or taught collaboratively?

Some degree programmes are vocational and are accredited by professional bodies. Achieving this accreditation is vital to securing student numbers and to ensuring that the careers of the students on your degree will be enhanced. Sometimes it is possible to bring in external tutors from non-academic organisations to enhance the programme and allow your students to network with those in a profession or in industry. 

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