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Guidelines for New Course Proposals

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Course Descriptions

Course descriptions convey the general topic of a course. Ideally, the description provides students with a general idea of the subject and focus of the course without being so specific as to require frequent changes (e.g., with new advances in the field of study or new instructors). Course descriptions are not intended to be summaries of syllabi.

In delivering a given course, the University is bound to the topics described in the Academic Calendar. Therefore, any material that may be “variable” in a given year should be set out in the course syllabus, not the formal description.

Course descriptions should be no longer than 40 words, and should be as brief as possible. If length is an issue, full sentences are not required.

Initial phrases such as “This course..,” “Students will learn..,” “An examination of..,” etc. are unnecessary. The use of “examples include” in course descriptions is discouraged, except when necessary for clarity.

If the content of a course is adequately covered by its title, a course description may not be necessary; descriptions are discouraged at the graduate level.

The standard credit exclusion statement is: “Credit will be granted for only one of

See also Guide to Writing Course Descriptions.

Course Numbering

A course number should not be reused until a period of at least the length of the program plus one year has elapsed since the original course was closed. Proponents of curriculum change must provide a reasonable rationale if they wish to reuse a course number before such a period has elapsed.

Credit Value Determination

In course listings published in the Academic Calendar, the credit value of a course is shown in parentheses following the course number. In general, one credit represents one hour of instruction or two to three hours of laboratory work per week throughout one term of a Winter Session (September to December or January to May).  In the summer terms, which represent half of a Winter session term, one credit would represent approximately two instruction hours per week.

For non-lecture, non-laboratory learning activities (e.g., problem-based learning, community service learning, graduating essays, seminars, student-directed research) the determinants of a course’s credit value will vary with the department. For all new courses incorporating non-lecture, non-laboratory learning activities, a rationale for the proposed credit value should be included in the course proposal.

Credit value should be expressed as either a fixed value, or a variable value. For a variable credit value, a slash [/] indicates an option and a hyphen [-] indicates a range. For variable credit courses, please specify a “D” after the variable credit notation if the credit value is to be set by the unit, or a “C” if it can be selected by the student in consultation with the unit.

Assigning a course zero (0) credits is used for courses that relate to theses and dissertations, practica, and exchange terms.  The use of the zero (0) credit option for other types of activities is not encouraged by the Senate Curriculum Committee.


Some Faculties describe the distribution of their contact hours across learning activities through the use of a vector. The number of hours assigned each week to lectures or primary activity (first digit), and to laboratories or secondary activity (second digit) are shown in square brackets at the end of a course description. Where a third digit appears it refers to periods where discussions, tutorials, or assigned problems are done (tertiary activity). An asterisk (*) indicates alternate weeks. The first set of digits refers to the first term (September to December) and the second set following a semi-colon refers to the second term (January to May); when only one set is given it means either term. Graduate courses and courses in some Faculties are not designated with vectors.

E.g.:     [3-0-1*] would mean the course had a weekly total of 3 hours of lectures, no laboratories, and
               a 1 hour tutorial per two-week period.

             [3-0-1; 3-0-1] would mean that the course continues over two terms with 3 hours of lectures
              and a 1 hour tutorial weekly.

Typically there is a 1:1 ratio between the primary activity and the credit value; a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio between the secondary activity and the credit value; and credit value is seldom assigned to the tertiary activity. In the example provided above, the course would likely have a credit value of 3.

Subject Code Assignment/Creation

UBC currently assigns subject codes to:

  • Disciplines (e.g., BIOL for biology)
  • Programs (e.g., BRDG for Bridge Program)
  • Organizational units with combined disciplines (e.g., CENS for Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies)

The creation of a new subject code is considered a Category 1 change. An academic rationale supporting the choice of the 2-, 3-, or 4-letter code must be included. There is no need for a library or budgetary sign-off for the subject code creation. Consultation with Senate & Curriculum Services (ubc.curriculum@ubc.ca) at an early stage is required. If there is overlap with an existing subject code used on the Okanagan campus or with a historic subject code, consultation with the affected units is required.

When course subject codes (e.g., ENGL) or numbers (e.g., 110) are changed, please indicate clearly whether the previous version of the course should be closed, and the effective date for the closure. In the Student Services Curriculum Management System, changing a subject code or number entails closing one version of a course and opening another.

Prerequisites and Corequisites

Prerequisites and corequisites should be noted in the course description. A prerequisite is a course that the student must have completed prior to registering for the selected course. A corequisite is a course that the student must take prior to or concurrently with the selected course. Prerequisites and corequisites may be waived for individual students at the discretion of the instructor. General prerequisites that apply to all courses with a particular subject code are frequently given just before the Calendar listing for that subject code. In all cases where prerequisites are indicated, the assumption is that an equivalent course or the permission of the instructor is also acceptable; an explicit statement to that effect should not be included in the prerequisite or corequisite statement. The course instructor will decide on the adequacy of a student’s academic preparation in situations where appropriate prerequisite or corequisite courses are not presented.


Some types of courses such as directed studies, topics, or variable credit courses are scheduled as different versions. Versions (represented by a detail code: suffixed letters A-Z after a course number such as BIOL448A, BIOL 448B, etc.) are not new courses; rather, they represent different focuses or ways of approaching a course’s content. A course version has no standing on its own.   

A version of a course cannot:

  • have a course description that is different from other versions;
  • be a pre-requisite that excludes other versions;
  • have pre-requisites that differ from other versions; or,
  • be used to satisfy degree requirements of any of the other versions of the course that do not satisfy the same degree requirements.

Only the course itself can have these attributes and all versions of a course are deemed to be the same in these respects (except for where there are differences in credit value).

All courses with titles including “[Special] Topics in…”, “Readings in…”, “Issues in…” or “[Directed] Studies in…” are assumed to be able to have versions, as are all courses with variable credits.

Piloting Courses

A version of a topics course can be used to ‘pilot’ a potential new course. If a unit finds that a version of a “Topics in…”, or other such versionable course, meets a student demand and the unit plans to offer it for the foreseeable future, the unit should submit a Category 1 proposal to create a new course (giving the version its own course number and title). The process for new course approval is described above.


A cross-listed course is normally a course designed jointly by two or more different Faculties or departments, but taught as a single course.



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