Setting Up a Full New Programme

Detail of the approval procedure is set out below. For a visual summary of the procedure see Diagram


  1. Initial enquiries and support of Dean
  2. School Executive Board approval (Stage 1)
  3. Site visit, due diligence and evaluation report
  4. Costing
  5. Academic Planning Board approval (Stage 2)
  6. Negotiation of price
  7. School Academic Board approval (Stage 3)
  8. Validation
  9. Memorandum of Agreement
  10. Variations for established partners

1 Initial enquiries and support of Dean

Academic collaborations may come about through different routes. Normally, enquiries will be directed through the Partnership Development Manager (PDM). The PDM will consult any specific criteria set by Deans of School and University committees as well as the over-arching selection principles listed under selection of partners. Enquiries which appear to meet the criteria will be forwarded to the Dean for consideration.

Members of staff who have a proposal for a collaborative programme should consult the PDM in the first instance. The PDM will advise on whether the proposal seems viable and will indicate what additional information might be useful in allowing the Dean to decide whether to pursue the idea further. The proposal (with relevant information) should then be passed to the Dean of School and Head of Division. 

The Dean of School will consider the proposal and confirm whether it fits with School and Institutional Strategic Plans. If the Dean wishes to pursue the proposal, he or she will approve it in principle, include it in the School Strategic Plan and report it to the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement (GQE). Some of the reasons that the Dean might not want to pursue a partnership include:

  • The subject lies too far outside QMU’s expertise.
  • There isn’t enough staff capacity to take on a new project.
  • The programme conflicts with another partnership or a QMU award.
  • It doesn’t fit with the School Operational Plan and / or the institutional strategy.

Deans will be most interested in proposals which:

  • come from organisations with a strong reputation;
  • fit well with the School’s portfolio and research and knowledge exchange interests;
  • provide the opportunity to increase student numbers;
  • are well-researched and meet a genuine educational need.

2 Initial investigations

School Executive Board approval (Stage 1)

Approval in principle enables the start of investigation of the proposal’s viability. It is essential that the proposal is reported to GQE at this point. The Assistant Secretary, Quality Enhancement is secretary to the Portfolio Development Group and will advise on what paperwork needs to be supplied. GQE staff can also provide general advice on the approval process, quality assurance arrangements, validation process and the development of the Memorandum of Agreement.

The Dean will identify a provisional Collaborative Academic Lead (CAL) to meet with the partner organisation and explore their needs. The Collaborative Academic Lead will act as project manager and should liaise with the partner institution and relevant support departments within QMU from an early stage. Similarly, the partner institution should identify a Programme Leader who will be the key contact with QMU.

The first step is to find out exactly what type of collaboration the partner is looking for and whether this proposal is realistic and appropriate. The Partnership Development Manager (PDM) is happy to be present at discussions to explain the options and the quality assurance implications of each. There will also need to be some discussion at this stage about the programme aims, market and appropriate academic level for the programme.

It is important to give partners a realistic sense of the timescale between initial discussions and full approval. The process may take up to a year – longer if the programme is being designed from scratch.

Once it is known exactly what type of collaboration the partner is interested in, the CAL should contact the PDM for advice on illustrative examples of price for this type of proposal. A broad indication of price should allow QMU and the partner institution to determine at an early stage whether or not the collaboration is likely to be financially viable. However, it must be stressed that any price quoted before detailed costings have been undertaken is only a rough guide. Prices may rise once more information is known.

The PDM will also conduct basic enquiries regarding the partner.

Assuming the partner is happy with the approximate price, Stage 1 of the programme approval form should be completed. (Note that there is a specific version of this form for collaborative programmes.) This form is normally completed by the CAL with assistance from the PDM. Please note that partners should not complete this paperwork themselves, although they may provide some of the information that goes into it.

The form should be submitted to the School Executive Board (SEB). The SEB will either approve the proposal to move to Stage 2, reject the proposal or request further information.

Detailed planning cannot proceed until Stage 1 approval has been obtained.

3 Site visit, due diligence and evaluation report

Once Stage 1 approval is granted, the Dean will nominate a member of staff to conduct a site visit.  The site visit may be waived if the School can demonstrate that there is substantial information available to the University that would make such a visit unnecessary (for example existing reports from other independent bodies, such as the QAA or accrediting organisations). Note that no additional report is required for a new programme with an existing partner, unless the programme requires specialist facilities or a substantial increase in learning and teaching capacity (including information technology infrastructure).

A site visit report will be completed, commenting on the facilities available at the partner organisation to support learning. This report should be passed to GQE.

At the same time, the PDM will be collecting information required for due diligence checks. This means seeking evidence from reliable sources as to the proposed partner institution’s strategic direction and financial security. For this reason, partners will be asked to provide copies of their most recent accounts. This information will be viewed only by the PDM and Head of Finance and then destroyed.

The PDM will also seek confirmation of the partner’s legal status, their ability to contract in law and their status within their own higher education system. Some countries have specific laws relating to the recognition of overseas qualifications which may affect potential collaborations. The risk assessment also has to take into account practical considerations such as how easy it is to travel to the partner, safety and security issues and political stability.

The PDM may approach previous partners for references.

Once all the above information has been collated, a member of staff from GQE will then work with the Collaborative Academic Lead to complete the Risk Assessment and Evaluation Report The form asks a number of specific questions and asks for risks to be graded by both likelihood and severity of impact. GQE will provide advice to ensure consistency of approach.

Where a high risk is identified it is important to include proposed measures to reduce or control the risk. For instance, if poor English language skills are a likely barrier to student achievement, the control measures might include setting a rigorous minimum level of English for entry or putting in place additional English classes.

The Risk Assessment and Evaluation Report is submitted to the Academic Planning Board (APB) together with the site visit report and any supporting evidence for Stage 2 approval.

4 Costing

Stage 2 is where the APB makes the strategic decision whether, from a business point of view, the programme should be allowed to proceed. After this point, the process becomes a matter of consideration of the academic merits of the planned programme.

In order to make this decision, the APB requires detailed information on the potential risks and benefits of the proposal. A key element of this is the likely income the programme may generate versus the costs to the University. Therefore, before the Stage 2 form is submitted a full costing must be undertaken.

The CAL should meet with the PDM to work through the likely time commitments from QMU staff required to run the partnership successfully. This includes both academic staff and staff in the various support departments who deal with different aspects of the student journey. Non-staff costs such as travel, accommodation and library resources must also be considered.

It is essential that all relevant support departments are considered in relation to the possible resource needs of the programme. If the partnership is going to require additional support beyond the normal threshold levels, then the relevant departments must be consulted.

Particular points to note are:

  • Different programmes may require different levels of library access. Discuss whether students are likely to attend the library in person. Discuss whether there is any requirement for additional texts or journals to be purchased and who will meet this cost.
  • The majority of partners require at least some staff development to make sure there is a shared understanding of procedures, learning and teaching approaches and marking standards. Different partners may have different staff development needs. Find out how many of the partner organisation’s staff have taught at the same level as the proposed programme. Will they need additional input from QMU prior to delivering the programme?
  • If the Hub is to be used to support delivery check whether the partner organisation has the infrastructure and the experience to support this. Will specific staff development be required?
  • Normally students from partner organisations do not have access to QMU Student Services. Check whether the partner is able to provide sufficient support for students themselves.
  • Some locally based partners may want to bring students in to the University for an induction day. If library or Effective Learning Services staff are to be asked to contribute to this, make sure the costs are included.
  • It is required that QMU staff moderate a sample of assessments to ensure consistency of marking standards for at least the first iteration of each module. Where staff in the partner organisation are not highly experienced in marking academic work it may be appropriate for additional moderation or even double marking to be provided. Time for this should be costed in.
  • Where the language of assessment is not English, consider whether there is any need for course materials or student work to be translated. This may entail extra costs.

The costing must include all the above information so that the School is not hit with any ‘surprise’ costs once the collaboration is in operation. It is also important for the partner institution to know from the outset what services are being provided under the Memorandum of Agreement.

The PDM will undertake a formal costing exercise using the University’s costing software (pFACT). The CAL, Head of Division and Dean must sign off the costing on the system.

5 Academic Planning Board approval (Stage 2)

The CAL and PDM should complete Stage 2 of the programme approval form and submit it to the Secretary to the APB, along with the following documents:

  • Risk Assessment
  • Site visit report
  • Costing
  • Any other supporting evidence

The APB will need evidence of demand for the programme, in order to assess whether it is likely to be financially viable. The partner should be able to provide evidence in this respect. This might take the form of numbers of applications for similar programmes run by the partner in the past, analysis of competitor programmes, or support statements from employers.

The APB will either approve the proposal to move to Stage 2, reject the proposal or request further information. Firm negotiations with the partner cannot proceed until Stage 2 approval has been obtained.

Following Stage 2 approval, a provisional date for validation will be set.

6 Negotiation of price

Once Stage 2 approval has been granted, the Dean may enter into negotiations with the partner regarding the price.

It is standard practice for fee arrangements to include a minimum fixed price to ensure that QMU is not significantly disadvantaged by unexpectedly low student recruitment. Partners should be aware that the bulk of QMU’s costs in supporting a collaborative programme are fixed and do not vary depending on the number of students. (For example holding exam boards and joint boards of studies, providing staff development, paying external examiners, providing on-going academic advice etc).

7 School Academic Board approval (Stage 3)

The next stage is to share the proposal with the School Academic Board. This enables the School to consider the implications for other programmes and to identify any opportunities for links or cross-teaching. The School Academic Board will also consider an overview of the programme structure to confirm it is appropriate for its academic aims. Stage 3 scrutiny is an opportunity for School colleagues to highlight important issues that may need to be addressed before the programme proceeds to validation.

The CAL should work with the Programme Leader at the partner institution to agree the overall shape of the programme. The Stage 3 programme approval form asks for the following information:

  • Philosophy and aims
  • Outline structure (number of modules, core or elective, new or existing)
  • General learning, teaching and assessment strategy (including proposed delivery methods, balance of theory and practice, use of the Hub etc)
  • Placement arrangements (if applicable)

Once the School Academic Board has approved the proposal it recommends it to Senate through its minutes. Validation arrangements may now be finalised. The programme may be advertised to potential applicants but it should be made clear at this stage that it is still "subject to validation".

8 Validation

Validation is the process by which the University approves a programme to be delivered (for an agreed length of time – normally five years). This involves scrutiny of programme documentation by a group of academic staff and discussion with the programme team.

The overall aim of the validation process is to make sure that students studying for awards of Queen Margaret University will have a good academic experience. The procedures and practices adopted for the planning and approval of collaborative provision are those established by the Senate for all Queen Margaret University awards.

A programme planning team should be set up, consisting of staff from the partner institution and QMU. The following documents must be provided:

  • Validation document (also know as a programme document) – a factual and descriptive account of what is covered by the programme, how it will be taught and how it will be managed.
  • Programme specification – a summary of the key details about the programme
  • Student handbook – the handbook that will be provided to students to tell them what they need to know about the programme.
  • CVs of staff teaching and assessing the programme.
  • Placement handbooks (if applicable)

Detailed information on the validation process can be found in the Validation and Review Guidance Notes for Programme Teams. However, the following checklist indicates the key points that should be covered in developing the programme:

  • programme title and final award (or awards – what subsidiary awards will be available to students who don’t complete the full programme?)
  • length of programme (minimum and maximum time it will take to complete)
  • mode of attendance (full-time, part-time, distance learning, block release)
  • language of tuition and assessment (which will normally be English)
  • intended student numbers (maximum and minimum)
  • any relationship or overlap with existing programmes in Queen Margaret University or the partner institution (e.g. will students who complete the programme be eligible for direct entry to a QMU programme?)
  • arrangements for placements (if required)
  • professional requirements (if applicable)
  • aims and outcomes
  • market research (needs of students and employers)
  • admission criteria and any arrangements for admission with advanced standing or exemptions (note that entrance requirements must be equivalent to the requirements for entry into similar programmes delivered at QMU)
  • programme structure, core modules and prerequisites
  • regulations for assessment, progress and award
  • assessment formats and assessment schedule
  • curriculum
  • teaching and learning methods
  • module descriptors
  • student support mechanisms available at the partner institution
  • programme management and quality assurance arrangements (as they will operate at the partner institution)
  • arrangements for promoting equality and diversity within local cultural expectations and legal requirements

Governance and Quality Enhancement staff can offer advice on preparing the documentation. This will be as standard for all QMU validations, but it must also make clear how administrative and programme management procedures will operate at the partner institution. Note that it is not necessary for partners to have identical student support procedures to QMU, only for their processes to be equivalent. Statements about communication between partners and arrangements for quality assurance should be included.

In the case of franchised programmes (see Categories of Collaboration), much of the documentation will be supplied by QMU. However, is essential that the partner contributes information about the learning environment they will provide. Particular attention should be paid to student support and programme management, which may vary from partner to partner.

All documentation must be submitted to the Collaborative Academic Lead no later than eight weeks before the validation. This allows time for comment and amendment before submitting the final documents to the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement four weeks before the validation.

The validation event will usually be held in the partner institution, especially for programmes which require the use of specialist equipment or facilities. This allows for a thorough scrutiny of the partner organisation’s resources, facilities, staff, traditions, ethos, and academic and non-academic capacity.

The panel will consist of representatives of Queen Margaret University and external experts. It is up to the programme planning team to nominate suitable external members of the panel, subject to approval by QMU. See Validation and Review Guidance Notes for Programme Teams for more information.

The Secretary to the panel will normally be a member of the staff of the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement. For programmes accredited by professional bodies joint validations may be held, in which case staff from the professional body will be in attendance.

Prior to the event the panel will read the documentation and will highlight to the Secretary any issues they wish to raise with the team. The Secretary will pass this information to the team to help them prepare for the event.

As many of the programme team as possible should be present for the event, which normally lasts a full day. Key administrative staff may also attend. Part of the day will be taken up with private meetings of the panel and tours of facilities, but the team should expect to spend between two and three hours discussing the programme with the panel. This discussion, which is intended to be constructive, will allow the panel to explore with the team issues that require further clarification.

Even if the modules and / or entire programme have been designed by QMU, the panel will want to explore the programme team’s understanding of the aims and philosophy of the programme. This will help them to judge how ready the team are to deliver the programme effectively.

Validation outcomes

Following the detailed scrutiny of the documentation and the discussion held with the programme team, the panel will make recommendations to Senate.

The panel may make one of three recommendations:

  • that the programme be validated;
  • that the programme be validated, subject to conditions (all conditions must be satisfied before the programme can be considered approved)
  • that the programme be not validated.

In addition, the panel will specify the approval period, which will normally be five years.

The team’s response to conditions of validation must be submitted, in writing, to the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement no later than the date specified at the event. The response should include a cover page, quoting each of the conditions, followed by an indication of how this has been met, plus any supporting documentation required by the panel. Whilst recommendations are advisory rather than mandatory, it is good practice to provide an account of any action taken in response to recommendations. This should be submitted to the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement at the same time as the response to conditions.

The Secretary to the event is responsible for forwarding the response to members of the panel and professional body representatives as appropriate. Once the panel has approved the response to conditions the programme leader receives written notification of this from the event Secretary.


Following approval of the response to conditions, the programme team must supply the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement with the finalised programme document and programme specification. These documents will be the official agreed programme for the next five years. Details of modules or programme specific regulations may only be changed through the committee mechanisms set out later in this manual. (See Joint Boards of Studies and Committees.)

9 Development of Memorandum of Agreement

While programme planning is going on, consideration should be given to operational issues and defining procedures for programme management and quality assurance. A Memorandum of Agreement must be negotiated to cover these points. The Memorandum will be drafted by staff in the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement. The Memorandum forms the legal contract between QMU and the partner institution and should state clearly the respective responsibilities of both parties. The Memorandum must be drafted prior to validation; and signed by the Principal of Queen Margaret University and a nominated representative of the partner institution before the programme starts.

The Memorandum of Agreement includes a Financial Appendix which sets out the terms of the financial agreement between QMU and the partner institution. Finances should be negotiated by the Dean of School (or nominee) with assistance from the Partnership Development Manager. International partners who operate more than one QMU programme will be considered as ‘corporate partners’ and negotiations will include the Deputy Principal. The Financial Appendix will be drafted by the Partnership Development Manager. The Dean of School is responsible for final approval of the price, taking advice as required, and in accordance with normal authorisation procedures.

An example of a Memorandum of Agreement is available from the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement. The Memorandum must normally include details of:

  • the scope and limit of the collaborative arrangements;
  • financial arrangements;
  • the responsibilities of all parties, including those concerning: the admission and progression of students; student assessment; conferment of awards and issuing of certificates;
  • number of exam boards and Joint Boards of Studies per year;
  • quality assurance procedures, including those relating to: programme development, monitoring and review; committee structures; appointment and remuneration of the external examiner/s;
  • level of student access to Library and IT services;
  • arrangements for staff development;
  • ownership of copyright and intellectual property;
  • explicit commitments on data sharing;
  • rules concerning information, publicity, public relations and promotion of the collaborative link by the partner institution;
  • explicit procedures for the resolution of any difficulties between the signatories, including the legal jurisdiction under which the agreement may be enforced;
  • provisions for suspension or withdrawal in the event of either party failing its obligations;
  • strategies for supporting students in the event of termination

Procedures set out in the validation documentation must align with those in the Memorandum.

Arrangements for the termination of a collaborative agreement by either party must take account of the need to provide for the interests of continuing students registered on the programme concerned. Normally both partners will be responsible for ensuring that existing students have the opportunity to complete their programme.

10 Variations for established partners

The procedure above is the same for new programmes with an existing partner, apart from the initial stages. Normally, no additional site visit is required, but a programme specific risk assessment must be completed. If the programme needs specialist facilities (eg a laboratory or specialist equipment), some form of evidence will be required to demonstrate that suitable resources are in place.

No additional due diligence will be required for new programmes with an existing partner.

Normally there will not need to be a fresh Memorandum of Agreement. A Supplementary Agreement will be signed which extends the original agreement to include the new programme and sets out any revision to financial arrangements. A full validation will normally still be required. It may be that a partner wants to run an existing programme at a new site. In this case the purpose of the validation would be to confirm that the same standard of facilities and student support would be available at the new site, and to confirm that the new teaching team were able to deliver the programme effectively.



Collaborations and Partnership Development

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Collaborations and Partnership Development

Sheila Adamson Partnership Development Manager 0131 474 0000