Home > What we do > Regulation > Course designation

Specific-course designation for alternative providers of higher education

These pages provide information on the application process for specific-course designation, which the Government has asked HEFCE to run on its behalf.

Specific-course designation applications for 2013-14 should be submitted by 30 August 2013.


What is an alternative provider?

‘... any provider of higher education courses which is not in direct receipt of recurrent funding from HEFCE or from equivalent bodies in the Devolved Administrations; or does not receive direct recurrent public funding (for example, from a local authority, or from the Secretary of State for Education); and is not a further education college.’

The Government aims to make higher education in England more diverse and responsive to the needs of students. It described this approach in the 2011 White Paper Students at the heart of the system and the technical consultation that followed.

To support this, the Government is introducing a new system to designate courses at alternative providers. Specific-course designation of a course allows eligible English-domiciled students on that course to access loans and grants from the Student Loans Company (SLC).

Our role

The Government has asked us to process applications for specific-course designation, working with the SLC and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). In this role, we will provide the Government with advice for them to:

  • decide whether or not to accept an application for specific-course designation
  • control the number of full-time undergraduate students on designated courses at alternative providers
  • decide whether or not a provider continues to meet the criteria for specific-course designation.

For students

Find out how this process affects the access students at alternative providers have to student loans and grants.

Read more

How to apply

Providers can now apply for course designation for courses operating in 2013-14. Applications should be uploaded to the HEFCE extranet by 30 August 2013.

Government has published guidance on the application process. Applicants should read this before applying to ensure they meet the criteria.

Any questions on the guidance should be addressed to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), e-mail designation.enquiries@bis.gsi.gov.uk.

Providers receiving specific-course designation will be required to sign up to a set of terms and conditions with Government. These will be available on this web-site in July.

Contact us

The application pack is available through the HEFCE extranet. The pack includes an application form and declaration, course-designation template and financial tables.

To access the extranet providers will need to register. Providers should contact coursedesignation@hefce.ac.uk with their UK provider reference number (UKPRN) and we will send them a ‘group key’ (which will identify the organisation and its application).

If providers do not have a UKPRN, they will need to register with the UK Register of Learning Providers (UKRLP).

We have also provided detailed information for applicants below.

Login to access the application pack

Guidance from Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (please read)

Course designation: information for applicants for 2013-14 and 2014-15

Download the Information for applicants as PDF (688 KB) | Download the Information for applicants as MS Word (669 KB)

We will continue to review the appropriateness of the application form, and will be looking into the feasibility of an online application system to help streamline the application process.

In the meantime to give feedback on the content or structure of the form please e-mail coursedesignation@hefce.ac.uk.


For new courses starting in 2013-14, providers should use the application window now open. 

We will open two application windows for new courses starting in 2014-15 in August 2013 and February 2014. These will be open for six weeks. Providers should check these pages for the latest information before completing their application.

Providers can apply to have existing course designations reviewed at any time from 2 September 2013 to 29 August 2014. We will contact separately providers with existing courses about the process for review.

If providers with existing course designation also wish to apply for specific-course designation for new courses, they will need to apply in the application windows referred to above and we will review existing designations at the same time.

Controlling student numbers

A student number control (SNC) will be introduced from 2014-15. The control for a provider with existing specific-course designation will be based on the number of UK and EU students starting study on specifically designated full-time courses in academic year 2012-13.

In order to collect data for the SNC baseline, we will conduct a survey of student numbers in 2012-13 in autumn 2013. Provisional allocations will be announced in January 2014 and final allocations in March 2014.

Providers that are awarded specific-course designation for the first time for 2013-14 or 2014-15 will be treated as small providers. This means that the total number of students accessing full-time student support will be limited to 50. This control applies to all full-time undergraduate students studying with the provider, not just to students beginning their studies.

Page last updated 10 June 2013

Share this: