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Student Alternative 2019/20 - Expected length of study

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Student Alternative 2019/20

Fields required from institutions in All fields

Expected length of study

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Short nameSPLENGTH

This field is used to indicate the normal elapsed time in the units indicated by Instance.UNITLGTH from the commencement of study, (the first learning/teaching week) to completion of the instance. This will normally include time for examinations. It does not purport to indicate the amount of study time, learning time or contact time.

Applicable toEngland Scotland

All instances.


This should be the length applicable to the instance as a whole and includes holiday time.

Where there are both part-time and full-time students following a programme of study, the expected length of study should be the normal length applicable for the mode of study of the student.

Cases where there is not a defined normal length for the programme of study, or where the programme of study is self-paced with an indefinite length, should have an empty element returned with neither characters nor spaces within it:


Validation will ensure that if this field is an empty string then Instance.UNITLGTH must be coded 9.

It is not expected that the length of study be adjusted for individual students. However, where there are different options that students can take, for example, foundation years and sandwich placements, it is expected that the length reflects the options taken. For students who repeat years, this field should not be adjusted.

Direct entrants

In cases where there are direct entrants to a later year of a course, they must also have an expected course length the same as students who are studying the whole of the course.

For example, if this is a three year programme and they are a direct entrant onto the third year we would expect to see them recorded as Instance.SPLENGTH = 3, InstancePeriod.YEARSTU = 1 and InstancePeriod.YEARPRG = 3. This indicates that whilst it is the first year of study for the student, the course they have entered holds an overall expected length of 3 years and they have entered the third of these three years.

Exchange students

For exchange-in students, the Instance.SPLENGTH returned should represent the length of time they are expected to spend at the provider.

Foundation years

Where a student elects to take an integrated foundation year this should be reflected in the length of study. For example, where a student undertakes an integrated foundation year it is normally expected that the length be recorded as one year longer than if the student had just taken a stand-alone degree. Integrated foundation years are returned with InstancePeriod.YEARPRG = 0. It is important that the Instance.SPLENGTH and InstancePeriod.YEARPRG are coded correctly to ensure that the student is included in the NSS population at the correct time. For example, a student studies Science with an integrated foundation year. The duration of the course is 4 years in total.

In the Student Alternative record they would be returned as follows:

Year Instance. NUMHUS SPLENGTH InstancePeriod. YEARSTU InstancePeriod. YEARPRG
1 1 4 1 0
2 1 4 2 1
3 1 4 3 2
4 1 4 4 3

For Unistats the NSS population algorithm takes account of the foundation year through the YEARADJ calculation and the student will be surveyed in their final year of study.

Intercalated courses

The length of study for courses that include an intercalation should reflect the length of the individual course aim in each year rather than the length of the instance in total. For example, a student enrols on a 5 year Masters in Medicine course. In the third year they intercalate to the third year of a Bachelor in Biotechnology before returning to complete the remaining years of the Masters programme.

In the Student Alternative record they would be returned as follows:

Year Course. COURSEAIM Course. CTITLE Instance. NUMHUS SPLENGTH InstancePeriod. YEARSTU InstancePeriod. YEARPRG
1 M26 Masters in Medicine 1 5 1
2 M26 Masters in Medicine 1 5 2 2
3 H00 Bachelor in Biotechnology 1 1 or 3* 3 1 or 3*
4 M26 Masters in Medicine 1 5 4 3
5 M26 Masters in Medicine 1 5 5 4
6 M26 Masters in Medicine 1 5 6

* The coding of Instance.SPLENGTH in the intercalating year will depend on how the provider treats intercalated years. If they are viewed as one year courses the expected length would be one year but if they are considered direct entrants to the third year of a three year course then the expected length would be recorded as three years.

The length of this field is 2 characters, however XML enables data to be returned with or without leading zeros, e.g. 03 or 3.

Sandwich courses

Where the option of a sandwich course is available but it is not taken up by a student then Instance.SPLENGTH should be revised at the point where the student makes a decision not to take-up the sandwich option, normally by the end of their second year, to reflect the expected length excluding the sandwich year. For example students coded 4 in Instance.SPLENGTH and 1 in Instance.UNITLGTH in the first year should be recoded 3 in Instance.SPLENGTH at the end of the second year if they are not expected to take the sandwich option. This re-coding is required to ensure that the correct cohort of student is identified in the National Student Survey (NSS) target list.

Top-up courses

Top up courses will vary in form between providers. The year of study needs to align with the expected length of the course. Where a top-up course is a discrete one year course, providers will code students as YEARPRG = 1 and SPLENGTH = 1. As another example where a student enters into the last year of an undergraduate course, providers may code YEARPRG = 3 and SPLENGTH = 3. InstancePeriod.YEARPRG should not exceed the Instance.SPLENGTH.


An instance lasting for two and a half years would be coded 30 months.

Quality rules
Quality rules relating to this entity are displayed here.
Reason required To monitor the expected length of programmes and to determine whether a student is counted or not in a given year. Used to determine the National Student Survey target list and to monitor changing course lengths.
Part of
Field length2
Minimum occurrences1
Maximum occurrences1
Schema components
Related fields
Date modified2020-04-16
Change management notesGuidance updated to include 'For students who repeat years, this field should not be adjusted.'

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