Higher education policy

The aim of higher education policy branch is to develop, communicate and evaluate higher education policy for Northern Ireland, in consultation with the sector, and other regions of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

This includes policy areas such as: alternative providers; teaching funding; student number control; and the provision of information about higher education. Additionally we work alongside colleagues across the other regions of the UK on matters such as: Admissions to Higher Education, Student Mental Health, Period Poverty / Dignity in Higher Education and legislation in relation to Cheating Services.

Publishing and maintaining a list of higher education providers

The UK has a well-deserved reputation world-wide for providing high quality and well-respected higher education. There are well over 100 institutions in the UK that are permitted to award a wide variety of degrees to suit most educational aspirations. All those institutions have degree awarding powers recognised by the UK authorities (UK and Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies). These are known as recognised bodies.

Current Northern Ireland recognised bodies are:

In addition to institutions awarding degrees, there are also several hundred colleges and other institutions across the UK which do not have degree-awarding powers but who provide complete courses leading to recognised UK degrees. Courses at these institutions are validated by institutions which have degree awarding powers. These are known as listed bodies.

It is important to note that the listed bodies of higher education providers changes, often from year to year, depending on the arrangements in place with recognised bodies. The department will review and update the list annually. 

As of July 2024, the current Northern Ireland listed bodies are:

If your provider is not listed above, and is based in Northern Ireland, please seek clarification by emailing the Department – hepolicy@economy-ni.gov.uk

For listed bodies in other parts of the UK, please contact the relevant jurisdiction –


Email the Office for Students - providerverification@officeforstudents.org.uk


Contact the Scottish Government central enquiry unit


Email the Welsh Government - customerhelp@gov.wales


Alternative provider policy

An ‘alternative provider’ is any provider of higher education courses which:

  • is not in direct receipt of recurrent funding from the Department for the Economy or from equivalent funding bodies in the devolved Administrations
  • does not receive direct recurrent public funding (for example, from a local authority, or the Secretary of State for Education)

In order for NI students who are undertaking higher education courses with these alternative providers to avail of student support, the provider must secure specific course designation from the Department for the Economy.

    Higher education - specific course designation

    This guidance sets out the specific course designation process for alternative providers of higher education in Northern Ireland. In particular, the guidance explains:

    • the criteria for granting specific course designation;
    • the assessment and decision making process; and
    • the conditions of specific course designation.

    The guidance is intended for alternative providers who wish to apply for specific course designation and for those with existing designation.

    Full guidance on specific course designation for alternative providers of higher education in NI, covering the eligibility criteria and the full application process, is available:

    Alternative providers who wish to apply for specific must complete and return, in line with the guidance, these documents:

    The privacy notice, which outlines how personal data is handled when alternative providers submit an application for specific course designation, is available:

    Future sustainability of the higher education system in Northern Ireland

    The branch is responsible for the formulation and development of any future policy in regard to securing financial sustainability of the higher education system in Northern Ireland.

    Teaching funding policy

    The branch is responsible for overseeing and developing funding policy in regard to teaching activities at the universities. This involves ensuring that the Higher Education Funding Model is fit for purpose and that the inivesrities skills outputs are aligned with the needs of the local economy.

    Student Support Policy

    Undergraduate and Postgraduate

    The Branch is responsible for developing and overseeing Northern Ireland policy in relation to undergraduate and postgraduate student support. This includes: the undergraduate maintenance support package, the undergraduate tuition fee loan and postgraduate taught loans. Postgraduate education is defined as qualifications at Levels 7 and 8 on the Framework for Higher Education Qualification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FEHQ).  The Branch is currently working with colleagues responsible for postgraduate provision, along with other stakeholders, in taking forward a review of the current provision. 

    The Provision of Information about higher education

    Providing information about higher education is one of the priorities for higher education division. Higher Education Policy Branch therefore works with the HE sector in NI and with the UK HE Funding bodies to ensure that accurate, relevant information is available to prospective students in order to assist them in their decision-making regarding their higher education needs.

    The Branch works with the other UK funding bodies on a number of UK-wide information initiatives including the National Student Survey (NSS) and DiscoverUni.

    • The NSS gives the UK’s students the chance to express their views about their course. The results of the NSS are published, along with other key information, on Unistats.
    • The DiscoverUni website provides access to key statistics on courses at all HEIs in the UK, giving official detailed quantitative data on graduate employment data, course continuation rates, degree results and entry requirements, etc.

    Information about Northern Ireland’s Higher Education Sector

    More information for prospective students, including information on course fees, financial support, teaching and learning assessment methods, the cost of living, student satisfaction, future career prospects, Northern Ireland’s universities and colleges and  other relevant information can be found at the Higher Education section of NIDirect.


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