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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

4.5: Departmental Action Plans in Response to the Outcome of the Curriculum Review


In March 2011 Senate approved Underlying Principles for the Development of the Taught Curriculum.  Eight of these principles related to programmes rather than issues of University policy, and Senate agreed that all programmes should be aligned with all of these principles (cases for exemptions in respect of particular programmes can be made if there is a strong and compelling case that the chair of the relevant FEC judges to be satisfactory).

This document sets out the Principles relevant to programmes, and a series of questions/prompts relating to these that are intended to form the basis of reflection and discussion on their provision by departments.  These issues/prompts are not intended to be definitive or prescriptive, but to act as aids to reflection and discussion.

The final section of this document provides a template for the action plan that should be agreed by departments on the basis of this reflection and discussion.  All departments must develop and submit to the Academic Support Office, for consideration by the relevant FECs, a departmental action plan.  This action plan must address undergraduate and taught postgraduate provision.

Departments have three years to ensure that their programmes are fully aligned with these Principles, i.e. the actions in the action plan can be scheduled between 2011/12 and 2013/14, but this alignment should have been completed by the end of 2013/14.

Research-led education


1. Research-led education[1] 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 the footnote below, 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.


  • The following questions and prompts are a slightly modified version of the prompts in Jenkins, A., Healey, M., and Zetter, R. (2007) Linking teaching and research in disciplines and departments.  York: The Higher Education Academy (available at: ), pp.58-60.
  • What is your departmental (and disciplinary) understanding or conception of research-'led', '-based', '-oriented' or '-informed' learning?
  • What forms of pedagogy and their assessment do you consider appropriate to support these conceptions?
  • Can you clearly identify where research-based learning is integrated in the programme?
  • Where is current research in your field presented in the programme? How does research relate to programme design and programme outcomes; curriculum content and delivery in the modules; and assessment methods?
  • Where are research methods/skills/ethics taught and practised? Is this progressive? Is a variety of appropriate skills/methods delivered?
  • Are the research knowledge/skills the student will have acquired made clear in the module learning outcomes? Are students aware of the research-led nature of curriculum?
  • Can/do students participate in departmental research projects as e.g. research assistants?
  • Where is the scope for students to conduct independent research in their programmes and in what ways do the programmes allow progression in research-based learning?
  • How are research skills and the links between education and research embedded in monitoring and review of modules and programmes?
  • How are students supported in making explicit how this research training/knowledge increases their employability?
  • How are undergraduate [and taught postgraduate] students made aware of postgraduate research opportunities?
  • How does the department articulate research and teaching links in its programme specifications, and to students?
  • How does the department's research strategy articulate teaching and research links?
  • How are the teaching and research activities organised, motivated and resourced? Are they managed for mutual engagement? Are all researchers involved in teaching? How are 'non-research active' teaching staff mentored and encouraged to develop a research/scholarly profile, and valued for their particular contributions to the nexus?
  • How do research teams and course teaching teams link with each other? How are these links facilitated?
  • How are teaching staff 'managed' in developing a research and/or scholarly capacity?
  • How are new staff and incoming students acculturated into the department values and practices?
  • How is the staff and student experience of the nexus monitored and the results fed back into policies and practices?"

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.


  • Is it clear how students are inducted into the expectations of the relevant academic community of practice for their programme, and given the opportunity to develop the academic skills required to participate in this community?
  • Have the transferable skills developed by students through their programme of study been clearly identified? How relevant are these to the potential needs of employers and/or further study?
  • How effectively are students made aware of the transferable skills and competences that they are developing through the programme?
  • Are opportunities provided for students to enhance their skills development and employability through placements (year long, or more short term within a specific module)? If not, what potential is there to develop placement opportunities?
  • Are students able to experience a range of modes of assessment that support them in developing and demonstrating a broad range of skills? If not, where and how can assessment methods be diversified?


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


  • Are the preparation activities provided by your department sufficient for international students to understand what is expected of them?
  • How can subject relevant knowledge/content be conveyed so that it is inclusive of international students? Could greater diversity be achieved through examples, case study or international or global research initiatives?
  • What values and skills in addition to knowledge are needed to allow students to fulfil the graduate intercultural competencies? Are these reflected in the learning outcomes of your program?
  • Does the type/range of your assessment opportunities facilitate international students to demonstrate their learning achievements? Are there opportunities within assessments to exploit in international contexts of your discipline?
  • Are there ways in which the curriculum could be enhanced by using technology to provide a greater international context?
  • Are opportunities provided for students to enhance their international experiences through placements (year long, or more short term within a specific module)? If not, what potential is there to develop placement opportunities?


       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 Healy, Institutional strategies to link teaching and research (2005), p.21].