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What is course designation?

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.'

This includes a wide range of providers which are for-profit, not-for-profit and charities.

The Government’s reforms to higher education in England aim to create a more diverse, competitive sector with a wide range of providers that are responsive to the needs of students. This includes alternative providers.

The process known as specific course designation allows eligible students on a course to access student support loans from the Student Loans Company (SLC).

Providers wishing to have their courses designated must meet criteria set by the Government for quality, academic performance, course eligibility, financial sustainability, management and governance.

How do you know which providers have course designation and for which courses?

For students

For students thinking about studying on courses at an alternative provider, the course designation process will decide whether or not eligible students can access government loans.

See our page for students to see what funding is available.

The HEFCE Register is a searchable tool that shows how Government regulates higher education providers in England. For most providers with course designation, the Register provides details of each course including:

  • location
  • mode of study
  • the name of the relevant awarding body
  • whether new students studying on the course can apply for student support.

Some providers hold institutional level designation or offer higher education programmes as part of a sub-contract arrangement. These providers are not regulated at a course level so the Register does not show course level information for them.

HEFCE’s role in course designation

Our role in course designation is to process and provide analysis to the Government on applications from alternative providers for course designation. This includes:

  • new provider applications
  • annual returns
  • new location applications and new course registrations
  • change of circumstances or control.

Under current legislation, we do not have regulatory oversight of alternative providers, and we are not empowered to make decisions on applications.

Government role in course designation

The responsibility for making decisions on course designation lies with the Government. The Department for Education (DfE) sets the criteria for designation and, referring to HEFCE’s analysis, decides whether or not an alternative provider’s course should be designated.  This role was formerly undertaken by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).  Responsibility transferred to the DfE in July 2016 and the DfE will continue to use the process and policy set out in the guidance published by BIS in July 2016.

Read the latest Government guidance on course designation

Who in HEFCE works with alternative providers

Various teams across the council work with alternative providers. The team organograms below give an overview of the teams.

Contact details

For questions about the application process you should contact the Gateways team at HEFCE:, 0117 931 7317 (select option 2).

Or you can keep up to date with news and announcements by subscribing to the course designation email list.

For questions about the Government’s current and future policy relating to specific course designation you should contact the Department for Education designation team via, email

Course designation queries