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Education Quality and Policy Office


(page last updated: 19 August 2019)

During the 2019-20 academic year, a review of programme specifications will be taking place; for further information please contact Melissa Rielly,

The purpose of programme specifications is to act as a definitive record of the course, setting out the course’s intended aims and learning outcomes and how these are met.  Specifications are read in conjunction with Statutes and Ordinances and the Reporter to provide a full picture of the course.  The documents are linked in perpetuity to student transcripts and have multiple audiences, including prospective students, employers, and accreditation bodies.  

These pages provide more information about what the programme specification is used for and how they should be created and revised.

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Definitive records of individual programmes and qualifications

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) expects that a definitive record of each programme and qualification is maintained by the University. This record acts as a reference point for the delivery, assessment, monitoring and review of the programme and is designed to be shared with academic and support staff, students, internal and external examiners, professional and statutory bodies, and academic reviewers. The record should be updated as and when amendments to the programme or learning outcomes are approved.

In Cambridge, programme specifications are produced for this purpose, and should be read in addition to the Regulations for the course as outlined in Statutes and Ordinances (Chapter IV for undergraduate courses, Chapter VII for graduate courses). Programme specifications are published for each Tripos or each course in an interdisciplinary Tripos like the Natural Sciences Tripos, and for Master's programmes, other postgraduate courses, certificates and diplomas. An archive of past programme specifications is maintained on the University's CamDATA website and is linked from a student's University Transcript.  An independent specification is not normally produced for research degrees, please see our formal statement on the CamDATA site for more details. 

The definitive record of the programme can assume a variety of forms, but will always outline the intended learning outcomes and attributes for the programme as a whole.  Templates have been provided, below, to enable courses to easily populate the necessary information.  The definitive record:

  • includes the Framework for Higher Education Qualification (FHEQ) level at which the qualification is located and shows how the overall learning outcomes are aligned with the descriptors in the FHEQ;
  • shows how the content, structure, and assessment provide students with the opportunities to demonstrate that they have achieved the programme learning outcomes at the requisite level;
  • evidences that, in designing the programme, account has been taken of relevant subject benchmark statements and the requirements of PSRBs, where applicable;
  • demonstrates compliance with the academic framework and regulations of the University;
  • includes any approved variations or subsequent changes.

What is a programme specification?

At Cambridge, a programme specification acts as the definitive record and usually answers the following questions:

  • What is the programme? (standard descriptors)
  • Why is the programme provided? (aims)
  • What is a student expected to learn from the programme? (learning outcomes)
  • What elements does the programme contain? (programme structure)
  • How is the programme taught? How do students learn? (teaching and learning methods)
  • How are students assessed? (assessment methods)
  • What does a student need to achieve in order to graduate? (progression requirements)

It may contain additional, optional, fields to address unique aspects of the course.  A template is available to assist in creating a new specification; please see our pages on Drafting programme specifications.

Who are they for?

Programme specifications may be used:

  • by faculties and departments, to promote discussion and reflection on the purpose, content and delivery of its courses;
  • by the General Board, to understand the intentions of proposed new programmes, or changes to programmes;
  • by students and prospective students, to gain an understanding of the teaching programmes on offer; however, please note that because specifications are produced annually, prospective students are referred to the prospectus for the most accurate overview of the course as it will be delivered in their year of entry;
  • by internal and external reviewers, including General Board review committees and External Examiners, as contextual information;
  • by employers and professional bodies, to gain a better understanding of the expected achievements of graduates;
  • by recent graduates, as a way to measure the effectiveness of the programmes and their delivery.

The General Board consider the first three uses to be of most importance. Programme specifications can be used as reflective and developmental tools, as the process of drawing up or revising the document provides an opportunity to consider whether the teaching, learning and assessment methods are appropriate for the course aims and learning outcomes.

All programme specifications are made publicly available as PDF files on the University's CamDATA course information and statistics site. All University transcripts provide a link to this archive, to enable the reader to access information about the graduate's course.

For any queries relating to Programme Specifications contact Melissa Rielly.

Useful external information