Last week Harper Adams University College validated ‘The Professional Studies Framework’. The framework will facilitate the negotiation of employer sponsored cohorts of work based learners from levels 4-7 and enable individual’s to study online towards an MSc in Professional Studies.

The framework

Harper Adams is currently engaged with employers through the REEDNet project. The decision to develop a credit framework was made to support developments in employer responsive provision. The framework seeks to offer awards in the range of a Foundation Certificate through to MSc in Professional Studies. The achievement of awards within this range would be formed through different module combinations. This is made possible by broadly designed award outcomes that emphasize learning processes and learning levels, rather than subject content or specific contexts. The framework seeks to offer awards which meet the needs of employers and which support learners to develop and demonstrate knowledge and understanding, skills and also other attributes which are beneficial to an individual’s employing organisation and to the individual’s personal and professional development.  

The framework has been designed for cohorts who either:

  • Already have credit from different sources and who wish to bring that credit together, along with some new Harper Adams credit, to form a named Harper Adams award.
  • Seek an award through unique combinations of modules. 
  • Have existing training already occurring in-house which may be recognised through flexible modules from The framework’s own suite of modules.

 How does it work?

The framework is underpinned by four key mechanisms:

1. Modules (reusable curriculum).

A number of modules have been formed which can be contextualised in a range of workplace settings. Modules can be seen as wrappers or shells. Titles include Analysing the work setting, Leadership and organisational improvement, Advancing professional skills, Learning through work, Action research and professional development. The modules can be used and adapted to fit with the needs of different employers. 

Wrapper modules accredit existing training whilst extending the learning from that training through a range of processes that include systematic reflection, connecting the development of competencies in practice to bodies of literature and to analysing the impact of knew knowledge.  A number of wrapper modules were successfully validated in March 2010 at Harper Adams. 

Shell modules are modules that require application in a specific context; they may be contextualised by either individual learners or by employer cohorts so as to address particularly relevant themes. Typically, although not exclusively, shell modules are inquiry-based. 

2. Parameters

A number of parameters have been set for the operation of the framework. All credit must be work related and the volume of credit brought from other sources must comply with existing regulations.

3. Processes 

The framework is underpinned by a number of processes to provide scrutiny of new modules combinations and devise definitive documentation. Harper Adams (specifically through Aspire and REEDNet) has an established employer engagement validation committee that meets almost monthly. The experience of this group, coupled with the regularity of meetings makes it well placed to provide scrutiny (e.g. ensuring modules are combined appropriately). 

The framework is also underpinned by the processes of working with employers; REEDNet has a team comprising of developers, business development managers and academics who together with departmental staff can act as translators – turning the framework in to a tangible employer engagement arrangement, with all that entails.

4. Conventions (naming awards). 

The framework contains mechanisms to add award suffixes so as to enable context and/or content reflective of the modules undertaken to achieve the award.  

The framework offers the opportunity for truly responsive provision, whether this through bespoke combinations, or through the application of shell or wrapper modules. Undoubtedly the success for the framework will depend upon the skill of the team who need operationalise it. 

The cohort of individuals  

 The Framework is firmly aimed at facilitating employer engagement for groups of learners. However there are learners located in rural sector organisations, which do not engage with higher education directly, for a whole host of reasons (size being a significant reason).  To open up work-based learning to such individuals, an individual route through the framework at level 7 was simultaneously validated.    

For individual entrants the modules will be presented as a set sequence and credit size to enable efficiency and intra-group support to be offered. This is not the negotiation of individual routes through The Framework but rather is a cohort of individuals from differing professional backgrounds learning through a common curriculum, and benefiting from the cross-fertilization of learning from their respective inquiries.  

msc diagram
Modules serving the cohort of individuals 

The MSc will be rolled out over a staged period of development. The resourcing for the creation of the online modules and the subsequent facilitation has been compiled with a capacity building goal; that is to draw in a range of staff to encourage engagement with online learning. 

The individual route through the framework is intended to feedback into the framework infrastructure since the creation of online resources, spaces and the expansion of learning about providing online support will enhance the support available for employer engagement.    

The dual validation


Validation is seen as the first step to bring a truly flexible but robust award system to reality.   

Thank you to all external colleagues for providing support to this project at its various stages of development.