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Jargon buster

Reading information on higher education and higher level skills can often involve wading through lots of uncommon or unfamiliar phrases and jargon. Use the jargon buster to help you with some of these confusing words and phrases.

Reproduced with kind permission from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Lifelong Learning Network and West Yorkshire Lifelong Learning Network.

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Access to Learning bursaries
Full time students who may need extra financial help can be awarded Access to Learning bursaries. They are assessed on individual needs and paid according to need. It is possible to apply for these before your course starts.

Access course
Access courses are designed to prepare mature students without other qualifications for entry into university or college and to provide the underpinning knowledge and skills needed to progress on to a Degree or Higher Diploma course.

Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL/APEL)
For Adult Learners, this scheme can be used by universities to recognise your experiences in work and voluntary situations and qualifications you already have. Prior learning can be used either as an entry qualification or may be counted directly towards an HE qualification.

Admissions Tutors
Each department or faculty will have someone who is responsible for application forms and other enquiries about the admissions process.

Adult Learning Grants
New grants to help people doing their first full time Level 2 and 3 courses in further education, provided that they meet income and residence requirements and live in certain areas. DirectGov Adult Learning Grants website >

Advanced Diplomas
See Diplomas (14-19 Diplomas) (below).

People who have graduated (i.e. completed a course and gained a qualification) from a particular university are described as alumni. Being an alumnus can give you ongoing access to Careers Services. Most universities have active alumni associations that enable past students to keep in touch with each other and the university.

Athletic Union (Sports Union)
This is usually a part of the main Students Union and is organised by students to provide a wide range of sporting opportunities (from tennis to kickboxing) that will suit people of a whole range of abilities. Competitions are organised between universities too.

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Bachelors degree
A bachelors degree (also called a first degree) is the qualification you receive after successfully completing a three (or four) year programme of degree-level study at university, or college. You should usually complete a bachelors degree before going on to postgraduate study.

British Council
This is the main organisation to advise international students about study in the UK. British Council website >

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This usually refers to the buildings and surroundings of a university where the university is the principal or sole occupier of an area. Many of the Universities founded in the 1960's and built outside towns and cities are called "Campus Universities" e.g. Lancaster, York. Universities where the buildings are more integrated with the city or town such as Liverpool and Manchester do not have readily definable "campuses".

Care leavers' grants
Extra support is available for help with accommodation costs in the long (usually summer) vacation.

Career Development Loans
Loans to help with study costs if you can't get student support from your LEA. DirectGov Career Development Loans website >

Careers Services
These provide a very important service for all students whatever stage they are at in their course. They can help in terms of providing advice and guidance about a vast range of career possibilities which students might want to consider once they have completed their course. Many universities are also able to provide information about opportunities for part-time and temporary jobs during their time as a student. Often future employers will visit universities to recruit students for employment and the Careers Service will have details of these "milk round" events.

CATS - Credit Accumulation Transfer Scheme
It may be possible to gain credit for completing parts of a degree. If you have already studied to HND level, on a degree programme or for relevant professional qualifications before you start your degree, you may be able to transfer credits under the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme, CATS. This can allow greater flexibility and means that if you change course, move to another institution or take a break from study or change from full to part time, you can take the credits with you.

Childcare grant
Full-time students with children may be able to get help with the cost of childcare. The amount payable depends on household income and actual childcare costs. The maximum grant available is 85 per cent of weekly childcare costs up to a maximum of £148.75 per week (for one child) or up to a maximum of £255 per week (for two or more children). This financial help does not have to be repaid. Childcare payments are paid direct to the registered childcare provider.

This is the system operated by UCAS to allocate students places on courses that still have vacancies after the publication of the A Level results. Although it is often for those who have not made the grades required by their chosen universities, it can also allow last minute applications to new institutions.

Curriculum 2000
Anyone studying post-16 courses after September 2000 will study a broader range of courses. This is part of the New Qualifications Framework, more commonly known as Curriculum 2000. There is now greater parity between vocational and academic qualifications in terms of their recognition and assessment and students can mix academic and vocational subjects. Additionally students can acquire Key Skills in Communication, Application of Number and ICT.

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Dance and Drama Awards
These are awards for talented people to take up courses at some of the private Dance and Drama Colleges. Visit the DirectGov Dance and Drama awards website or call 0845 60 222 60.

The Dean is a senior member of university staff who is responsible for all matters concerning the operation of a faculty, including teaching.

This is the amount of money that many students find they need to repay at the end of their studies. Most students do leave university with some debt - either to the Student Loans Company or to a bank. Student Loans do not have to be repaid until you reach a certain level of income - the amount varies each year according to average earnings. Bank loans often have to be repaid on graduating.

A degree (also called a Bachelor degree or an undergraduate degree) is a qualification awarded by a university after the satisfactory completion of the equivalent of 3 or more years of full-time study at university level. Foundation degrees may be awarded after 2 years of study.

Dependants' Grant
If you are a lone parent or if you have another member of your family who is financially dependent on you and you are under 55 you may be eligible for financial help. You may be eligible for up to £2,575 per year. The amount depends on household income. This help is non-repayable.

Diplomas (14-19 Diplomas)
The new Diploma is an alternative to the traditional GCSE or A level route. It offers a mix of classroom learning, creative thinking and hands-on experience. It can help you to develop the skills and experience that are valued by employers and which universities and colleges look for in potential students. There are three levels to the qualification.

  • The Foundation Diploma, which takes broadly the same time to do as four or five GCSEs and can be started in Year 10 or above.
  • The Higher Diploma, which takes broadly the same time to do as five or six GCSEs and can be started in Year 10 or above.
  • The Advanced Diploma, which is equivalent to three and a half A levels and can be started in Year 12 or above. The Advanced Diploma could lead to college, university or to skilled employment.
  • A Progression Diploma is also available, which takes broadly the same time as two A levels. This can be chosen if you wish to take a smaller programme or would like to combine a Diploma with another qualification.
  • A larger Extended Diploma will be available at all three levels from 2011 and at Level 3 is likely to be equivalent to four and a half A levels (subject to Confirmation through the Tariff process).

Diploma of Higher Education
A qualification that may be awarded by some universities, after 2 years of study.

Disabled Students' Allowance
This helps with the extra costs involved with studying. Includes mental health problems and learning difficulties like dyslexia.

A long report, which can be anything from 5,000 to 40,000 words, describing the results of original study and research. A dissertation can be submitted as part of the assessment on a first degree, but is more frequently submitted in order to achieve a higher degree (such as a Master of Science).

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An elective is a course (or subject of study) freely selected by the student at university or college. On some courses an elective is a period of course-related work experience.

An essay is a piece of written work, submitted by students to the university, and is one form of assessment. Essays usually have a set number of words (depending on the subject or tutor but often around 2000 words) and students are expected to answer a question, showing that they have done some research and are able to discuss the issues clearly and logically. Essays are more common with some subjects than others such as Science subjects.

Extended Diplomas
See Diplomas (14-19 Diplomas) (above).

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A faculty is a grouping of academic departments that are grouped together for teaching, research and administrative purposes, for example, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Law, etc. They may also be called Schools, e.g. School of Health Studies, etc.

FE - Further education
Further education refers to post-16 education which can be offered at colleges, institutes of education, schools and in the workplace. A very wide range of vocational and academic qualifications can be studied.

From September 2007, universities and colleges of higher education in England could charge up to £3,000 a year for their full-time courses. The amount charged may vary between courses, as well as between universities - check the UCAS website or the university's prospectus. We expect that the amount will increase each year in line with inflation.

Finals is the name given to the final exams taken by students at the end of their study. In the past nearly all of the assessment for a degree was based on the outcome of these exams. Most degrees today rely far less on the results from finals and tend to use assessment throughout the duration of the course.

Foundation Degree
A Foundation Degree is a work-related qualification designed together with employers. It lasts two years full-time, or three years if taken as a sandwich course. Studying for a Foundation Degree is a way of combining academic knowledge with job-related training. You can progress from a Foundation Degree to an honours degree at university or college in the same subject.

Foundation diploma
See Diplomas (14-19 Diplomas) (above).

Students beginning their time at a university are often referred to as Freshers and a Freshers' Week may be organised to introduce them to university life. This can include social events as well as introduction to libraries and other resources.

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Gap year
Time spent travelling or working usually after finishing A level, or equivalent, studies and before starting a degree at university or college. A gap year is a chance to gain work experience and additional knowledge and skills that employers value. Some students choose to take a gap year after completing their first degree and before postgraduate studies.

A graduate is a person who has been awarded a degree from a university or college. While you are studying for a degree you will be known as an undergraduate. After the award of a degree you become a graduate. If you undertake further study after your degree (e.g. Master's degree or PhD), you will be known as a postgraduate student.

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Halls of residence are blocks of student accommodation, which either provide meals or self-catering facilities. Priority for places in halls is usually given to first year students. There are usually a variety of other facilities like launderettes, common rooms, TVs and cleaners. There may be shared amenities such as bathrooms and showers, but some do have en-suite facilities.

HE - Higher education
Higher education usually refers to post-18 study at a higher level. Most higher education students study for HNDs or foundation degrees or undergraduate degrees or postgraduate degrees. Higher Education usually follows on from study at Sixth Form College, a sixth form at school or a College of Further Education.

Higher Education grants
These are awards for 2007/08 entry of up to £1,000 (which you don't need to repay) to help with the costs of higher education for families on low incomes. If family income is below £16,750 you'll get all of this money; if it is below £22,736 you'll get part of it.

Higher Diploma
See Diplomas (14-19 Diplomas) (above).

Higher National Certificate (HNC)
These are usually the part-time version of an HND. HNDs usually take 2 years full-time and HNCs two years part-time but there are full and part-time versions of both. Both qualifications give you the chance to enter the second or third year of a related degree. (HNCs usually lead to Year 2, HNDs to Year 3). Some HNDs and HNCs are being replaced by Foundation Degrees.

Higher National Diploma (HND)
These are like foundation degrees with the same level of study and entry requirements. Subjects are occupationally based and include Engineering, Business and Horticulture.

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Independent Student
You are classed as an independent student if one of the following apply:

  • You are 25 or over before the start of the academic year for which you are applying;
  • You have no living parents;
  • You have been married for at least two years before the start of the academic year for which you are applying for support. Your LEA will need to see your marriage certificate;
  • You have supported yourself for at least three years before the start of the academic year of your course.

This includes any time when you:

  • Were in paid full-time employment;
  • Received income support or unemployment benefit or Jobseeker's Allowance or were registered for unemployment;
  • Held a state studentship or similar award, for example from a research council;
  • Received incapacity benefits, invalidity pension or maternity allowance;
  • Received training under any scheme for the unemployed or other funding by any state authority or agency;
  • Could not support yourself out of earnings because you had to care for a person under 18 who depended on you.

Institutes of Higher Education
These are large providers of Higher Education which are very like universities.

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Joint honours degree
A degree programme which involves the study of two major areas of study, e.g. BA Hons English and French.

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The Local Education Authority - mainly responsible for education for those up to 18 years old - they have a Student Awards Section which deals with requests for funding for people living in that area who wish to go to university.

A lecture is usually a formal presentation of ideas and information by a member of the academic staff to a fairly large number of students. Many lectures are accompanied with student handouts, although you're generally encouraged to make your own notes too. In recent times lectures have become less formal in many universities with lecturers encouraging active participation from students.

Lecturer or Tutor
Lecturers and tutors are members of university staff who are responsible for the teaching of university courses and in helping students to learn. Traditionally lecturers deliver lectures and tutors hold tutorials for smaller groups, but now the same person often does the two types of teaching.

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Mature Students
Generally a mature student is a student who does not enter higher education directly, or after a gap-year from School or college. When you are over 21, the university may have more flexible entry requirements (although they may set a higher age limit).

Modular Courses
Most courses are divided into modules and students are required to pass a number of modules to complete a degree programme. To achieve a degree you will usually have to study a number of compulsory and optional modules. Some courses are called Modular because they give you a really wide choice of different modules as you go through.

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NARIC - National Academic Recognition Information Centre for the UK
Offers information and advice on the comparability of overseas qualifications with those from the UK. General advice is free however some services are offered at a charge. NARIC website >

NHS Bursaries
There is special funding for students who are taking pre-registration courses for health professions.

NVQs - National Vocational Qualifications
These are qualifications which you can gain at work, based on a portfolio of evidence to prove that you can carry out work-based activities to a national standard. NVQs at Levels 4 and 5 are considered higher education.

'New' universities
The former polytechnics are still commonly called 'new' universities or post-92 institutions although they achieved their university status in 1992.

If you are ever unhappy about anything while you are a student, many universities have a Nightline service. Nightline is a confidential listening and information service run by students, for students.

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Open Days/Preview days
Most Universities and colleges organise days when they are open to the public. You can find out the dates from their prospectuses or from the website.

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Parents' Learning Allowance
If you are a full-time student with dependent children, you may be entitled to help from the Parents' Learning Allowance. This extra finance (along with the childcare grant) can help pay for childcare and other costs related to your course. How much you get depends on your income and that of your dependants. Jobcentre Plus should not count this grant when they work out your benefit entitlement. You apply for this help through your Local Education Authority (LEA).

Many students spend time in the university library reading and researching for essays. As well as books the library contains specialist periodicals or journals which are published on a regular basis and contain articles written mainly by university researchers.

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This is a specialist degree (in any subject) that is usually awarded for at least 3 years of supervised, but original research work. All research students starting PhD research would expect to hold a good degree first and after completing a PhD they can use the title 'Doctor'.

Plagiarism is when someone uses someone else's writing or ideas and pretends that they are their own. Universities are very keen that students should not cheat in this way and so if you do any research then you should always reference your source of information.

Postgraduate Courses
Courses at a higher level which are usually only available for those who have already passed their degree, although wide experience at work may be sufficient for entry. Postgraduate study can lead to a Masters degree, PhD or a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma.

Usually one of the senior academic staff within a department who becomes a professor as a result of specialist research and teaching. Some large departments will have more than one professor each with their own specialist subject.

Progression Diploma
See Diplomas (14-19 Diplomas) (above).

A prospectus is a booklet (or CD-ROM or website) which gives the details of courses, activities and student life at a university or college. Potential students can ring any university to request a copy.

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Reading week
A period during a semester or term when students can concentrate on their individual learning and research. During these weeks there are usually no formal teaching sessions.

Redbrick is a term that is often applied to the large civic universities like Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Birmingham.

Research is a key feature of most university courses. Research involves collecting information about a subject from a variety of sources including books, journals and the Internet or by carrying out experiments or talking to people and analysis of this information.

RAE – Research Assessment Exercise
Research rating for individual university departments. A good indicator of the prestige but students need to take other considerations into account too like teaching quality. You can find these out from the Aimhigher site Use the links to universities and colleges.

Residential Colleges
There are 6 long-term residential colleges (all very different) which offer a range of higher education courses and courses to prepare people for higher education. They may be able to offer bursaries to help with costs. The Colleges are:

There are also a number of residential colleges which offer short courses for adults including sport, creative areas, politics and conservation. You can find a list on the Adult Regional Colleges Association website.

Russell Group
The Russell Group is an association of 20 major research-intensive universities of the United Kingdom. Formed in 1994 at a meeting convened in the Hotel Russell, London, the Group is composed of the Vice-Chancellors/Principals of the following Universities:

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • Cardiff University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Glasgow
  • Imperial College London
  • King's College London
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Liverpool
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • University of Manchester
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Nottingham
  • Queen's University Belfast
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University College London
  • University of Warwick

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Sandwich courses
Sandwich courses are degree courses which include an extra year 'sandwiched' between the years of study. During the extra year the student usually goes on work experience with an organisation or department in their subject field. If the degree is in languages, the extra year will usually involve a trip abroad (e.g. a sandwich course in French may involve a year living and working in France).

Some trusts and charitable bodies have funds to help students but these are often restricted to people in particular circumstances and may only be for the last year of a course.

SCR - Senior Common Room
In the same way that all students can belong to the Junior Common Room, all staff can belong to the Senior Common Room. This may be a particular room or can just be a term that describes a collection of staff.

Some universities divide the student year into 3 terms; some divide it into 2 semesters. A semester is half a study year.

A group of students meet to discuss a subject with a tutor; usually someone (or a group) prepares a paper for discussion and shares the research they have done and their opinions on the subject. Seminars are more interactive than a lecture and are often student led.

Single Honours Degree
A degree programme based on one main subject of study, e.g. BSc Physics.

All universities will have a huge range of clubs and societies where people can share their interests, beliefs, religion or sport.

Social Work bursaries
Students on Social Work courses may be eligible for bursaries.

Some companies offer a sum of money to students during their studies. In return the student may work for them during their studies or during vacations and should have an interest in working for the company when they graduate. Sponsorships are not only for students on vocational courses.

Student Loans
These are low interest loans from the government to help students pay their living and study costs while they are at university.

Students' Union
Each university will have a Students' Union (which will probably be part of the National Union of Students). The Union campaigns on behalf of students, provides a wide range of activities you can get involved with and can help with a range of issues from childcare to cheap holidays.

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Teaching quality assessments
Academic departments are regularly assessed on the teaching provision within specific areas. You can find Quality Assessment Reports on the standard of teaching in HE institutions in England and Northern Ireland on the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) website.

Teacher Training
Teacher Training and financial support for teacher training in England is coordinated by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA). Postgraduate Teacher Training applications are organised by the Graduate Teacher Training Registry (GTTR).

Tuition fees
Tuition fees for full-time courses are set by the Government and paid to the university directly by the student or by the local authority if the student is eligible for fees support. Depending on your (or your family's) circumstances the entire fees may be paid for you by the Local Education Authority. The tuition fees for part-time courses will vary according to the length of the course and the university.

Tutor or Lecturer
Members of staff responsible for teaching students in universities and for assisting students with their learning.

A small group meets to discuss with each other and their tutor the work they are doing and more general course issues. Tutorials can also be on an individual basis with a student discussing their work with a tutor.

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Pronounced 'yew-cass', UCAS is the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service for the UK. All students applying for full-time courses apply through UCAS. UCAS website >

Someone studying either full or part time for a first degree including Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Education (BEd), LLB (Law).

University Credit Accumulation Transfer Scheme (CATS)
It may be possible to gain credit for completing parts of a degree. If you have already studied to HND level, on a degree programme or for relevant professional qualifications before you start your degree, you may be able to transfer credits under the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme, CATS. This can allow greater flexibility and means that if you change course, move to another institution or take a break from study or change from full to part-time, you can take the credits with you.

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Viva voce (often abbreviated to viva)
A viva voce is an examination in which the student has a spoken interview with an examiner, as opposed to a written examination. Some university courses, especially in languages, will test students' knowledge with a combination of written and viva voce examinations.

Vocational learning is training directly related to work or employment. Vocational courses prepare learners for particular careers, occupations or trades and may involve a substantial element of work-experience.

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The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services. Web:


Accreditation of Prior (Experiential) Learning


Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme


Department for Children, Schools and Families (formerly DfES). Web:


Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (formerly part of DfES).


English as a Foreign Language


National Union of Students in Europe. Web:


Economic and Social Research Council. Web:


First Destination Survey


Further Education


Full Time Equivalent


General National Vocational Qualification


The Graduate Teacher Training Registry. Web:


Higher Education


Higher Education Funding Council for England. Web:


Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. Web:


Higher Education Institution


Higher Education and Research Opportunities (HE portal). Web:


Higher Education Statistics Agency. Web:


Higher National Certificate/Diploma


Institute for Learning and Teaching


Information Technology


Initial Teacher Training


Local Education Authority


Lifelong Learning Network


Learning and Skills Council. Web:


Non-departmental public body - otherwise known as 'quangos'


National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education. Web:


The Nursing & Midwifery Admissions Service. Web


National Union of Students. Web:


Open College of the Arts. Web:


Organisation for Economic co-operation and Development


Open University. Web:


Post-graduate Certificate in Education


Performance Indicator


Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Web:


Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Web:


Qualified Teacher Status


Regulatory Impact Assessment


School Centred Initial Teacher Training


Senior Common Room. Shorthand for University staff.


Social Work Admissions Service. Most courses are now degrees; you apply through UCAS


Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. Web:


University for Industry (brand name of learning materials is learndirect).


United Kingdom Council for Overseas Student Affairs. Web:


Universities UK (formerly CVCP). Web:

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Reproduced with kind permission from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Lifelong Learning Network and West Yorkshire Lifelong Learning Network.

Higher Futures is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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