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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

Principles for the development of the taught curriculum

The Principles for the development of the taught curriculum have been susperceded by the new, Senate approved, Objectives and Expectations for Curriculum Reform (LTH 7). The Principles remain here for information only.

Principles for the development of the taught curriculum [1]


Durham University's strategic aim is to 'achieve the highest standards in research-led education for both undergraduates and postgraduates' in a learning community 'that empowers all to learn and develop to their full potential'. To support it in achieving this aim, the University will develop and support curricula in accordance with the following Principles.

Research-led education

1. Research-led education [2] will be embedded within the curriculum of all programmes of study, with research-led education (as appropriate to the academic community(ies) of practice to which the department belongs) being a coherent, progressive and explicit strand at all stages of a programme. The University will expect that this begins at Level 1 of undergraduate programmes (and Level 0 for those programmes incorporating a foundation year) and immediately in taught postgraduate programmes.

2. All programmes of study will normally engage with all four of the modes of research-led education defined in footnote 2, and while in some cases there may be specific reasons why a programme(s) is not able to incorporate all four modes any exceptions will need to be explicitly justified.

3. All degree programmes will include a major research project, dissertation or equivalent (at undergraduate level typically 40 credits and at taught postgraduate level typically 60 credits) where students are able to demonstrate the development of their own research and independent study skills, as well as their expertise in their chosen field of study. This major research project will provide a 'capstone' to their Durham education that allows students to demonstrate their ability as independent learners and researchers.

4. The University will develop a research culture at undergraduate and taught postgraduate levels, with programmes of study ensuring that students at these levels are inducted into the research culture of their department. Mechanisms will be developed for recognising student research in taught programmes from Level 1 onwards. This might include developments such as prizes, junior research associate schemes or journals of undergraduate and taught postgraduate research.

Inter- and cross-disciplinarity (also see principle 12 below)

5. The University will encourage the development of a suite of inter- and/or cross-disciplinary programmes, thematic and issues-based in nature, that will draw on staff across academic disciplines in ways that reflect the increasingly cross- and inter-disciplinary character of the University's research strategy and activity.

Employability and skills

6. All programmes will develop a wide-range of skills in our students (also see Principles 4, 12 and 13 in the Principles for student support), with many of these skills being acquired through enquiry-led activities that develop many of key attributes valued by employers and which prepare our graduates for further study and employment. The skills developed through enquiry-led activities will be combined in all programmes with the development of a wide range of skills that will provide students with the competences to succeed in the world of work and the ability to manage their own intellectual and professional development.

7. Skills acquisition and the way in which these are developed through academic content, modes of learning and assessment methods, will be clearly defined in module and programme material and effectively communicated to students.

8. All programmes of study will provide an ongoing clearly-structured academic induction that provides students with a firm foundation in the writing, communication and numeracy skills (appropriate to their level) required in their chosen subject area so that they are fully prepared for their studies.

9. All programmes of study will utilise a diverse range of modes of assessment (appropriate to the discipline, subject matter and learning outcomes) that support the development and demonstration of a broad range of competences and skills, with modes of learning and teaching being revised as necessary to support this diversification of assessment.

10. The University will facilitate opportunities for programmes to permit students to undertake year-long placements, or placements within individuals modules, which feature the application or development of academic knowledge and skills relevant to the academic subject of the department offering the module or programme.


11. Curricula will be designed to provide students with the opportunity to develop as international citizens. All programmes of study will be internationally relevant (in ways that are appropriate to their subject area), so that students can make a positive contribution to an increasingly globalised society.

12. All students will be strongly encouraged to undertake credit-bearing languages as optional modules within their programme of study, and will be given the opportunity to undertake such modules at some point during their programme of study. Specifically:

a. undergraduate programmes should normally provide students with the opportunity to take a total of 40 credits, across two or more separate years of the programme (at Levels 1 to 3), of credit-bearing language modules.

b. taught postgraduate programmes that offer students optional module choices should normally provide students with the opportunity to take at least one credit-bearing language module.

c. Departments will have the opportunity to seek exemptions to principles 12a. and 12b. above from the Chair of their Faculty Education Committee, by making an exceptional case (for example, in relation to the requirements on an external body). At undergraduate level, where a department is unable to offer the opportunity to take 40 credits of language modules, the programme should offer the opportunity to undertake 20 credits of language modules.

13. The framework proposed in principle 10 above will also apply to short periods of study abroad.

14. All undergraduate and integrated master’s programmes shall normally offer the opportunity for students to transfer into the equivalent programme with an additional year abroad, subject to such a year abroad opportunity being available.

Underpinning structures

15. The University will retain its current academic year and modular structures, but seek to increase the flexibility within these structures as far as is practicable in order to implement effectively the Principles detailed above. It will do this by facilitating delivery of modules in a short-fat mode of study and through increased flexibility in the potential credit values of modules. It will also encourage departments to make full use of the teaching year, including the final three weeks of the Easter Term.

16. Key quality management processes, for example programme approval, curriculum development, annual review and periodic review will be used to support, and monitor, the implementation of these Principles.

1 Unless otherwise stated, the principles should be understood as applying to both undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes.

2 Throughout these principles , the term 'research-led' should be understood in its broadest sense encompassing all four types of research-led education detailed in the standard definition of this term:

'research-led: in the sense that the curriculum is structured around subject content, and the content selected is directly based on the specialist research interests of teaching staff; teaching is often based on a traditional 'information transmission' model; the emphasis tends to be on understanding research findings rather than research processes. Limited emphasis is placed on maximising the potential positive impacts of teaching on research.

research-oriented: in the sense that the curriculum places emphasis as much on understanding the processes by which knowledge is produced as on learning the codified knowledge that has been achieved; careful attention is given to the teaching of inquiry skills and on acquiring a 'research ethos'; the research experiences of teaching staff are brought to bear in a more diffuse way.

research-based: in the sense that the curriculum is largely designed around inquiry-based activities, rather than on the acquisition of subject content; the experiences of staff in processes of inquiry are highly integrated into the student learning activities; the division of roles between teacher and student is minimised; the scope for two-way interactions between research and teaching is deliberately exploited.

research-informed: in the sense that it draws consciously on systematic inquiry into the teaching and learning process itself'. [Griffiths, 2004 quoted in A Jenkins and M Healey, Institutional strategies to link teaching and research (2005), p.21].