Open units

Broaden your education by choosing a unit in a topic that is not related to your main area of study.

What a unit is

Units are the building blocks for all taught courses. A unit is part of a course and has its own learning outcomes, syllabus and assessment scheme. Units are assigned to a level of study and are usually credit bearing. A unit may be mandatory or optional and must be capable of being separately assessed. A unit may consist of one or more elements.

  • Mandatory unit - a core unit on a course which must be studied
  • Optional unit - a unit you choose from a specified list of units available on a particular course
  • Prerequisite unit - a unit you must pass before you can do another, usually more advanced, unit.

What an open unit is

An open unit is available to students on some single honours courses. There is a free choice on which open units you can select if it doesn't clash with your core course units. You can select open units in subjects that are not related to your main subject of study. Generally, open units have no pre-requisites.

Open units are designed to allow you to broaden your education outside of your specific subject specialism.

Find out if you can take an open unit

If the selection of open units is available on your course this will be listed in the programme structure for your course and you will receive guidance on the selection process from your school office.

The availability of an open unit is not always guaranteed because choices are subject to the number of places and timetabling to fit with your programme.

Levels of study

As a first-year student, you should only opt for units that are set at level 4 (certificate) as indicated in the unit information.


Open units are taught at university level. Most do not require any prior knowledge of the subject but some may assume a certain level of previous experience.

It is your responsibility to consider whether you have sufficient knowledge to meet the requirements of the course. If you are not sure, check either the unit information or with the school offering the unit.


You are expected to take 120 credit points per academic year. Each open unit is made up of 20 credits. You must check the number of credits of the open units you select to make sure you meet the 120 credit points required.

Different courses have different numbers of credits available for open units, and some offer open units that spread over two years or two Teaching Blocks. It is important to check the information you’ve been sent by your school; to see how many open unit credit points you are eligible to take, and how these can be spread out over the year for the open units you are interested in.

Allocation of open units

Your school will ask you for your open unit choices alongside the optional unit choice process. Allocation to an open unit is based on your order of preference, not the time you submit your choices.

We will try to accommodate your choices, but cannot always allocate you a place on your first choice unit if it is oversubscribed. You can select more units than you need to take, the extra unit/s will become back-up options if your first choice unit/s is oversubscribed.

If you are swapping an optional unit for an open unit and you haven't chosen a back-up, you will revert back to the optional unit if your chosen open unit cannot offer you a place.

If you select an open unit that clashes with other units on your timetable we will not be able to allocate you a place.

Change open unit groups

Wednesday afternoons are used for some teaching on open units.

If you are participating in a university sports club on a Wednesday afternoon and this causes a clash with a session in your open unit timetable, you may request to move groups.

You can refer to the open unit timetable to see whether there is a suitable alternative group to move to. To ask to move groups, contact the school that owns the unit.

Transfer open units

You may wish to transfer to a different open unit. 

Use the Bristol Futures open units timetable 2023/24 (PDF, 107kB) to make sure the unit fits with the timetable of your core programme. Contact your school to request the change.

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