Guidance for alternative higher education providers on how to apply for specific course designation and annual re-designation.


Specific course designation guidance: policy and guidance for alternative providers of higher education

Ref: DFE-00187-2017PDF, 671KB, 70 pages


Specific course designation allows alternative providers to access for eligible students:

  • undergraduate student support
  • postgraduate master’s loans
  • disabled students’ allowances (DSA)

DfE grants specific course designation on an annual basis.

This guidance explains:

  • who is eligible to apply for designation
  • the criteria used to grant designation
  • how to apply for designation
  • the assessment process
  • the conditions designated providers must meet
  • the process for seeking annual re-designation
  • how DfE applies student number controls
  • the sanctions DfE may take if a provider no longer meets the criteria and conditions of designation

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) ceased to exist on 1 April 2018, when its duties were divided between the newly created Office for Students and Research England.

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 established the Office for Students (OfS), the new regulator for English higher education.

From 1 August 2019, the OfS will take on the functions of the Department for Education (DfE) as the regulator for registered alternative providers of higher education in England.

As this guidance covers decision-making for the 2018 to 2019 academic year, it will no longer be updated by DfE.

View more information on the OfS framework.

Published 20 July 2017
Last updated 15 February 2019 + show all updates


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  1. Added details on how the duties of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) were divided after its closure on 1 April 2018.
  2. First published.

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