Subject Scheme

Subject Terms

Our primary focus in the current consultation is to gain feedback on the draft set of subject terms and definitions. These may be found in an online tool. This permits the adding of comments, which is our preferred channel for feedback since it gives an opportunity for both contrasting and confirming views to be effectively surfaced and consensus developed. A guidance document is available to explain the HECoS approach, both the structural aspects and criteria for term selection.

Stakeholders wishing to respond in ways other than the on-line tool should consult the How to Participate page.

You may wish to offer suggestions in relation to:

  • Subject definitions or other textual elements within a record.
  • Inclusion of new subject of study terms.  Before suggesting a new term, please review our acceptance criteria given in the Guide to Using HECoS.
  • Removal of an existing subject of study term or merging it into another subject term.
  • Modification of a term name, so that it more properly designates the subject of study.
  • The navigation structure, bearing in mind that this structure is for navigation only and is not intended to suggest a reporting hierarchy.
  • A comment from someone else, who has already commented.

In all cases, it would be most helpful if you were able to give the reasons for your suggested change.

Please note: consultation on the HECoS subject terms will take place in two phases. The first of these, which will run until 9am on April 20th 2015 will be the primary means to influence HECoS. After that deadline, we will process responses and propose a second draft scheme. The second draft will be available from May 5th. The second phase will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to see how we have responded to what may be divergent views, and to respond accordingly. The consultation period will end on May 29th 2015.

Additional Questions

A detailed account of the process used to translate from the requirements gathered in Stage 1 of the project to the design adopted is presented in project deliverable PD03, “HEDIIP NSCS Structure and Candidate Scheme” (available from the HEDIIP web site). This documents the rationale for HECoS design decisions and describes a proposed approach to dealing with the addition of new terms and deprecating terms. We would particularly like to receive comment on the criteria and process:

  1. The management of changes to HECoS over time requires balancing agility and stability. While the maintenance system needs to be agile in incorporating new terms, it also needs to provide stability for ease of coding and time series analysis.  We’ve outlined a new term request process on our Change Management page and would welcome your views on any aspect of this process.
  2. The criteria for inclusion of new terms into HECoS are outlined in the Guide to Using HECoS (above) and in PD03.  Are any new criteria needed or do the current ones need adjusting?
  3. We are also interested to establish criteria for removal of HECoS terms from the coding list, or for combining terms, should they be of unnecessary specificity. Currently we propose to use the same criteria as for inclusion for this.  What additional or new criteria should we adopt for this purpose?

Responses to these questions may be added to this page. This is our preferred option since it allows for disputation.

Please see the How to Participate page for orientation towards the consultation process.

2 thoughts on “Subject Scheme

  1. Can anyone explain the rationale for having a single classification for both modules and courses? The two things are quite different and are used in very different ways.
    For all that the proposed approaches and subjects are nice in theory, there are many, many risks and problems with the implementation (see e.g. HESPA letter
    It seems to me that the fundamental issue is that we need lots of separate subjects for modules, but only a limited amount for courses. I don’t see a practical way to resolve the issue of trying to assign a relatively general course to one of several hundred subject codes (the proposal to use the ‘nearest’ code is lovely in theory, but it leaves the user to define distance, so we should expect at least as many definitions as there are users!). Until it’s accepted that we need a framework of less than 100 codes for courses, I think the whole enterprise is doomed to failure – I would strongly encourage going back to the last cross-road and choosing another path. (Part of me wonders whether that path might be performing text analytics on course and module titles and their relationships through the HESA Student record.)

  2. We welcome the review of the JACs coding system and the opportunity to introduce a new system. However we caution against ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ if this does not bring quantifiable benefits in terms of the quality and integrity of coding. It is no good introducing a new system if it does not address gaps in the coding or idiosyncrasies of the structure.

    Having been involved in this area of work with English Heritage the key to introducing a new classification system is to ensure it conforms to all the standard rules for the construction and use of thesaurus like classification systems. From what has been seen so far what has been suggested seems to fit in with this. I encourage all users of classification systems to read the introduction to ‘Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) Thesauri’ (

    We welcome the flattening of the scheme and the use of a hierarchy to aid navigation. The use of terms provides a more transparent approach to coding. However we feel it would be more beneficial if the navigation hierarchy could be amended locally to reflect local practice. Admisnistrative coding will be easier if codes reflect the local organisational and/or academic subject structure. We welcome the expansion of thesaurus information against each term e.g. RT (related terms) but feel that it may need to be expanded. If the coding system is used to ‘remove’ JACs codes by amalgamation then the inclusion of equivalent but ‘non-preferred’ codes to reflect these and locally based coding may be needed. It is also important that scope notes reflect what the code should not apply to e.g. film studies as opposed to film production.

    We welcome attempts to reduce the breadth and depth of the codes used by analysis of what has been returned within HESA. We seen this as being required to also identify the imbalnce of some areas being rich in terminology and others less so. If not done already , we encourage that a gap analysis be undertaken to identify what academic subject areas are not included / poorly defined with a view to inclusion/exclusion. If the latter some explanation on the reasons behind it and the alternative codes to be used should then be provided. For example staff dealing in the oncology areas have often commented on the lack of codes in this area. Similarly the sports science was always lacking

    We also encourage attempts to remove some of the idiosyncracies within the JACs coding system that represent different classification approaches ; 1) Both ‘History by area’ and ‘History by topic’ could apply to a History course but there is no current way to reflect this. 2) Does one classify a PGCE (Geography) by level (X..) or by subject (F8..). This questions whether the coding system is being used for subject or function.

    To support this we would encourage a review on whether the single set of codes at course level is adequate for modern needs. The use of broad, narrow and related terms will allow for a better querying mechanism but will this be sufficient. For example we note that UCAS allows institutions to add extra codes and terms for the purposes of indexing and searching mechanism. should this be embedded within the wider arena?

    Lastly in relation to the subject terms themselves they are only as good as the information and advice available centrally, the people using them, and verification of their use. We would encourage the development of robust mechanisms in support of these areas. Too often previously advice has been sought to be told discuss with an academic in that area, the same academic who has generated the question in the first place.

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