Section A: Models for working in a discipline-specific context

As noted in the previous section, this working group’s deliberations have been informed by the reports of the EU Tuning Educational Structures in Europe Groups and by the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) experience in writing subject benchmark statements for its university sector. Both provide valuable resources and reference points when seeking to design discipline-specific learning outcomes for programmes/awards referenced through the NFQ.


Tuning Educational Structures in Europe[1]

The project on Tuning Educational Structures in Europe, which commenced in 2000 with support from the European Commission, aims to offer a concrete approach to implement the Bologna Process at the level of higher education institutions and subject areas.  An important aspect of the Bologna Process is concerned with achieving comparability of qualifications - and thereby also of study programmes - at the Bachelor, Master and Doctoral levels (Bologna cycles 1, 2 and 3 respectively) across national boundaries in Europe. With a particular focus on the subject or content of studies, Tuning proposes a common approach to describing, (re-)designing and evaluating academic programmes in different subject areas in the three degree cycles. This approach references the accepted level indicators for the three Bologna degree cycles (the ‘Dublin Descriptors’) and other key factors in establishing comparability: the competences of graduates derived from intended learning outcomes, the use of a common measure of student workload that serves for the accumulation and transfer of academic credit (the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System [ECTS]), and common approaches to quality assurance and accreditation. 

The project has been conducted through an extensive Europe-wide consultation process involving academics, graduates and employers. Subject-specific working groups have reported across a wide range of academic subjects, mainly, so far, at the Bachelor and Master levels. This focus on the subject is crucial for universities. According to the Tuning literature:

the name Tuning is chosen for the Process to reflect the idea that universities do not and should not look for uniformity in their degree programmes or any sort of unified, prescriptive or definitive European curricula but simply look for points of reference, convergence and common understanding.[2]

In this way, the Tuning approach promotes the ‘tuning’ of curricula in subject areas while at the same time recognising the validity and positive value of institutional autonomy and diversity and, by extension, of the centrality of the individual academic in the process. The educational stimulus which derives from the local context is also taken account of through the project’s recognition of the importance of consultation with employers and professional bodies in relation to university curricula.

With regard to learning outcomes, Tuning differentiates between learning outcomes which are written by staff and competences which are obtained by students. It recognises that competences - both subject-specific and generic - are developed in and through the particular study programme.


UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) subject benchmark statements

As part of its work in assuring and improving the quality of study programmes in universities, the UK Quality Assurance Agency initiated the development of subject benchmark statements. The brief for the QAA subject-benchmark groups was:

to define the nature of the Bachelors degree in [subject], mapping out the subject territory and describing the range of skills and attributes of graduates in the subject; to articulate in a statement the minimum requirements or expectations of achievement, commonly called the ‘threshold’ level for an award in [subject] …..; similarly to express enhanced indicators for a ‘typical’ or ‘focal’ level of achievement.[3]

According to the QAA website:

...subject benchmark statements set out expectations about standards of degrees in a range of subject areas. They describe what gives a discipline its coherence and identity, and define what can be expected of a graduate in terms of the abilities and skills needed to develop understanding or competence in the subject. […] Subject benchmark statements do not represent a national curriculum in a subject area, rather they allow for flexibility and innovation in programme design, within an overall conceptual framework established by an academic subject community.[4] 

These subject benchmark statements have been developed by independent subject benchmark groups comprising senior members of the academic community. So far, such statements have been published by the QAA for a wide range of subjects at Honours Bachelor level, including: general business and management; English, music, and physics, astronomy and astrophysics. Statements have also been written for business and management, and physics at the Masters level. See Appendix 2, Resources, of this report for links to these materials.



[1] Tuning Educational Structures in Europe (2007) Introduction to Tuning Educational Structures, General Brochure. [Internet]. Available from: <>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) (2009) Subject Benchmark Statements. [Internet]. Available from: <<>>

[4] Ibid.



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