Managing Academic Programme Changes and Withdrawals

This guidance sets out the processes for both withdrawing and making significant changes to academic programmes, that could reasonably be considered as material changes to the contract between the student and the University.

The University owes legal and regulatory duties in respect of applicants and students, and it is important that colleagues follow this guidance in order to ensure that we are fair and transparent in all our dealings, and to assist the University to comply, and continue to comply, with legal and regulatory duties.

If in any doubt about whether this guidance applies to changes you wish to make to your programmes, please contact the relevant Academic Programmes Quality Adviser (APQA) for your department.

The following guidance should be used in conjunction with these flowcharts:

Withdrawing a programme

The withdrawal of any programme of study for which an applicant has received and accepted an offer is likely to constitute a breach of contract and exposes the University to legal challenge for breach of contract and consumer law. Withdrawal might also place the University in breach of the Office of Students’ general ongoing registration conditions, in particular Condition C1 (Guidance on Consumer Protection Law) and have negative reputational impacts for the University.

It is therefore important that any proposal to withdraw a programme is considered carefully and has approval from the relevant Faculty Director of Operations (FDO), before it can go forward for formal sign off via routine governance processes. The more notice of such changes that is given the more a likelihood of challenge will be mitigated.

The steps below broadly set out the key stages in managing the withdrawal of a programme. They should be read alongside Flowchart 1: Withdrawing a programme.

A summary of the roles and responsibilities of relevant parties involved in the process of managing the withdrawal of one or more programmes of study can be found in: Discontinuing/Suspending Recruitment to a Programme.

Depending on the circumstances, some of these stages may run in parallel.

Before making changes, you should also consider the Timeline for Discontinuation/Suspension of Recruitment to a Programme.

This session's deadlines for the development and approval of curriculum changes can be viewed here:
2020-21 Deadlines for New and Amended Programmes and Modules.


Step 1

With the agreement of the Head of Department (HoD) approval should be obtained from the relevant FDO that a programme can be withdrawn.

Arrow pointing down

Step 2

The faculty/department will thereafter notify the relevant APQA as early as possible.

Arrow pointing down

Step 3

The APQA will notify Student Recruitment Marketing and Admissions (SRMA) and start to collate data relevant to the proposed withdrawal using the Programme Suspension/Discontinuation Form.

Arrow pointing down

Step 4

The APQA will support the proposal through the formal governance processes, namely the Faculty and Senate Learning and Teaching Committees and The Senate.

Arrow pointing down

Step 5

SRMA will prepare and send formal communications to any applicants and/or offer holders impacted by the decision.

Withdrawal of offers should be avoided wherever possible as this represents a breach of contract. Where this cannot be avoided, SRMA will take account of any pre-contract information provided to applicants/students at the time offers were made and the University will need to be able demonstrate that it has taken reasonable steps to mitigate the impact of programme withdrawal on the applicant(s), including in line with the Student Protection Plan. During the process of withdrawing a programme you will be asked to consider the following:

  • Are there alternative programmes that could be offered to the applicant(s)?
  • Are there similar programmes in other HEIs that we might support the student(s) in seeking to transfer to?
  • Could this programme be modified/merged with another programme or optional modules removed to allow the programme to run, albeit in a slightly different way?

The answers will inform the University's decision on whether or not a programme can be withdrawn and/or the timing of such. The earlier we are able to notify existing students and applicants the better and the lower the potential legal, regulatory, reputational and financial risks.

Arrow pointing down

Step 6

The APQA will support you in managing communications with current students. Impacts on current students will also inform the decision to withdraw. You will be asked to consider the risks for particular students (for example students on Leave of Absence, students who may fail a subsequent year, students on other programmes who might have expected to take modules from the discontinued programme where these will no longer run, etc) and support will be given to draft communications accordingly.

Where a programme is discontinued we have an obligation to ‘teach-out’ current student cohorts, in line with our published Student Protection Plan.

The Draft comms for withdrawal/closure template sets out what might be included in communications to current students. The communications should always reference the Student Protection Plan and must be approved by the relevant FDO and c.c.’d to the Director of Academic Programmes & Student Engagement. Formal communications will normally be sent from the relevant Head of Department or FDO. The Head of Department has overall responsibility for ensuring that processes are managed appropriately within the department.

Step 7

Arrow pointing down

In some circumstances the decision to withdraw a programme or number of programmes may constitute a reportable event and the University is required to notify the OfS. All communications to the OfS relating to reportable events will be managed by the University Secretary.

Minor amendments to a programme

Practically speaking, a minor amendment to a programme is one that does not require approval and can ordinarily be made by the owning department. It is a change that does not substantially or materially alter a programme from an applicant or student perspective and does not affect core parts of the curriculum and/or how it is delivered.
One example of a minor amendment is a change to modules which does not affect the aims or learning outcomes of the programme, such as:

  • A removal or addition of fewer than 40 credits of optional modules in a level/year of a programme (unless the withdrawal of optional modules means that module choice is notably reduced from what was originally published in the programme regulations).
  • A change to the assessment in one module contributing to the programme which does not change the aims or learning outcomes of the programme.

There is no clear division between what constitutes a ‘minor’ or a ‘significant’ amendment, as the same change across different programmes may have a disproportionate effect. However, even with minor changes it is helpful to think about the impact that the change will have on a student, or cohort of students; the possible risks when effecting the change; and to take account of this when communicating changes to students. It is also necessary to be mindful of the impact on students from different groups, e.g. does this change impact mature students, students with disabilities, etc disproportionately. If in doubt, it is always helpful to discuss planned changes with students informally, in advance and as part of a programme level approach.

For further advice on making minor amendments, please contact your APQA.

Significant amendments to a programme

Flowchart 2: Significant Amendments to a Programme

Significant amendments to any programme of study for which an applicant has received and accepted an offer and/or which impact on students who are registered on that programme, expose the University to legal challenge for breach of contract and consumer law. This is because we are making changes to the material information on which a student based their decision to come and study with us. It is therefore essential that these changes are managed carefully; that the impact on applicants, offer holders and students is minimised; and that effective and appropriate consultation takes place.

A significant amendment to a programme is a change that requires faculty approval for regulatory or other reasons.
Examples of a significant amendments might include:

  • change to the aims and/or learning outcomes of a programme
  • significant restructuring of a programme e.g. following a curriculum review
  • change or addition of a mode of attendance (e.g. from PT to FT)
  • change to the assessment across the whole programme or in a number of modules contributing to the programme
  • change to the programme title
  • change to the nature of the award
  • change to the duration of a programme
  • change to the accreditation status of a programme (for professionally accredited programmes)
  • change to more than 40 credits of optional modules in a level/year of a programme (including withdrawal of
  • optional modules so that module choice is reduced from what was originally published in the programme regulations)
  • changes to the core modules published in the programme regulations
  • changes to the content of core modules where the means of delivery and/or means of assessment is substantially different to what has been published in student handbooks etc.

APQAs will be able to advise on whether a change constitutes a significant amendment.

The process for a department wishing to make significant amendments to their programmes is as follows:

Complete and/or update the following documents and email to your Faculty APQA:

The process below focuses solely on those instances when the changes have a direct impact on applicants and students currently on those programmes of study and processes herein run in parallel to normal governance processes.

The steps below broadly set out the key stages in managing significant amendments to programmes affecting current applicants and students. They should be read alongside the Flowchart 2. Depending on the circumstances, some of these stages may run in parallel.

Summaries of the roles and responsibilities of relevant parties involved in the process of making changes that have a material impact on prospective or current students, impacted by these changes can be found in the Material Changes to a Programme guidance.


Step 1

Department advises the relevant APQA of intention to make significant amendments highlighting where these will/may impact offer holders/existing students

Arrow pointing down

Step 2

The APQA will notify SRMA to determine number of applicants/offer holders impacted.

Arrow pointing down

Step 3

The APQA will work with the department to determine the number and status of students impacted

Arrow pointing down

Step 4

The APQA will support you in managing communications with current students. You will be asked to consider the risks for all students (including students on Leave of Absence, students on other programmes who are taught on affected modules, etc) and support will be given to draft communications accordingly.

The Draft student comms for significant changes template sets out what might be included in communications to current students. The communications should reference the Student Protection Plan and must be approved by the relevant FDO and c.c.’d to the Director of Academic Programmes & Student Engagement. Formal communications will normally be sent from the relevant Head of Department or FDO. The Head of Department has overall responsibility for ensuring that processes are managed appropriately within the department.

Arrow pointing down

Step 5

The APQA will support the proposal through the formal governance processes, namely the Faculty and SenSRMA will prepare and send formal communications to any applicants and/or offer holders impacted by the decision. ate Learning and Teaching Committees and The Senate.

Arrow pointing down

Step 6

SRMA will prepare and send formal communications to any applicants and/or offer holders impacted by the decision.

Arrow pointing down

Step 7

In some circumstances, changes to a programme/group of programmes could be sufficient to constitute a reportable event and the University is required to notify the OfS. All communications to the OfS relating to reportable events will be managed by the University Secretary.

Add an intermediate award

Complete and/or update the following documents and email to your Faculty contact in the Quality and Standards team.