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Glossary of UK educational terms

Confused by any education

words and phrases you have come across? Use this


glossary to find out what they mean.

A-level
Qualification normally first gained in the UK at the
age of 18, but without a formal age limit. Available in
many subjects. Two or three A-levels are often used
to meet university entrance requirements.

academic
Any member of teaching or research staff at a
degree-awarding institution; or sometimes used as a
general term for any study which is not related to
preparing for a career.

academic year
Year running from September to September of the
following year. Most UK courses start in September or
October.

access course
One-year full-time course for students who are not
ready to enter degree programmes. Usually features
study and writing skills, English language and some
study of the subject to be studied at degree level.

accreditation
Process of examining various aspects of a course,
such as teaching methods and facilities, to ensure
they meet agreed standards.

accredited
Describes a course that has been examined and
approved as meeting an agreed standard.

admissions tutor
Academic officer, such as a lecturer, at a college or
university who decides which applicants will be
offered places. Each course or discipline at an
institution has its own admissions tutor.

alumni association
Association of the graduates of an institution. Means
of keeping in touch with fellow-students, and getting
news about the college where you studied. Some
associations have overseas branches.

APEL
Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning.
Establishes the equivalent in formal qualifications of
knowledge and ability gained through work and other
experience. Can be used to assess whether an
applicant meets entrance requirements, or whether
they may be allowed to directly enter the second
year of a degree programme.

APT
Advanced Placement Test. Graded test taken in the
US for university entrance.

ARELS
The Association of Recognised English Language
Services. Organisation that jointly runs (with the
British Council) a scheme of accreditation for private
English Language schools.

AS level
Qualification equal to one half of an A level.

assessment
Process of considering a student's academic ability
and work through essays, examinations, interviews
or other methods.

assignment
Any piece of work, such as an essay, which a student
must complete and submit by a specified time to be
marked.

BA
Abbreviation of the first-degree qualification:
Bachelor of Arts.

Bachelor's degree
First degree usually obtained after three years or
more of full-time study.

BACIHFE
British Accreditation Council for Independent Further
and Higher Education. Organisation that runs an
accreditation scheme for UK private colleges.
BALEAP
British Association of Lecturers in English for
Academic Purposes. Organisation that works to
develop the provision of English-language teaching
for international students in higher education
institutions in the UK.

BASELT
The British Association of State English Language
Teaching. Association of state universities and
colleges in the UK. Responsible for quality
assessment of English-language courses for
international students and teachers. Accredits
numerous courses.

block release
Continuous period (usually several weeks) where an
employer allows an employee time away from work
to attend an educational institution.

bridging course
General name for any course preparing students who
need to improve their academic study skills or
language ability before they progress to higher level
study.

BSc
Abbreviation of the first-degree qualification Bachelor
of Science.

BTEC
Business and Technician Education Council. Body
which validates BTEC Certificates and Diplomas.
BTEC Certificate and Diploma
Vocational qualifications available at various levels.

bursary
Financial award granted by an institution to a
student. Bursaries have strict selection criteria, and
are usually for a fixed amount, very often less than
the full cost of a course.

CAE
Certificate in Advanced English. Widely accepted
English high-level language qualification. Managed
by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations
Syndicate (UCLES).

campus
University or college grounds.

CELTA
Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.
Teaching qualification validated by Cambridge
University.

certified
Of educational and other documents, officially
stamped and signed by an authorised officer to prove
that a document is genuine and accurate.

CFE
College of Further Education. College that offers
academic and vocational courses ranging from
GCSEs or equivalents to Diploma or Certificate
courses that approach the level of first degrees. May
also offer degrees validated by other institutions.

chaplaincy
Christian organisation within a college or university,
holding meetings and religious services.

CHE
College of Higher Education. College that offers
academic and vocational qualifications from A-levels
and equivalents to HNDs. Some also offer degrees
validated by a partner university.

City & Guilds


Broad range of vocational qualifications, validated by
City & Guilds Institute. These qualifications are not
generally used to meet university entrance
requirements.

civic university
One of the universities established in the 19th and
early 20th centuries in major industrial centres such
as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and other big
cities.

clearing (recruitment)
Process allowing applicants with no offers of places
for degree programmes to secure places at
institutions, which have vacancies, shortly before the
start of the academic year. Begins mid-August each
year.

closed examination
Examination where students are not allowed to refer
to books or notes and have a specific time to
complete a certain number of questions.

common room
Room used by students or staff for relaxation.

continuous assessment
System whereby academic work is marked and
graded throughout a course, rather than just at the
end.

core
Compulsory subjects or modules as opposed to
optional subjects or courses.

course materials
Any material or items used on a course of study.
Includes printed matter, stationery, and items
specifically used for one subject, such as oil paint for
Fine Art.

coursework
Work that is done in the student's own time, rather
than in seminars or tutorials. Coursework usually
counts towards a student's final mark in their course
or module. Coursework can be continually assessed.

CPE
Certificate of Proficiency in English. Widely accepted
English language qualification. Managed by the
University of Cambridge Local Examinations
Syndicate (UCLES).

CSYS (Scotland)
Certificate of Sixth-Year Studies. Scottish school-
leaving qualification, taken at the age of 17 or 18.
Equivalent to GCE A-level qualifications.

CU
Christian Union. Society in an educational institution
for Christians working or studying there.

day release
Arrangement whereby an employer allows an
employee to attend a part-time course, usually by
taking the same day or days off work each week for
the length of the course.

DELTA
Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults.
Advanced teaching qualification validated by
Cambridge University.

DfES
Department for Education and Skills. Government
department that administers and funds education in
the UK.

DfID
Department for International Development.
Government department responsible for
administering UK aid programmes for developing
nations. Makes academic awards to qualifying
students each year.

Dip HE
Diploma in Higher Education. Qualification
approximately equal to two years of a three-year
degree. Often available in work-related subject areas
such as nursing or accountancy.

dissertation
Long essay, usually contributing to the overall mark
or grade for a course.

distinction
Special honour or recognition for excellent work, as
an examination grading.

DLitt
Doctor of Letters. Higher doctorate qualification.

doctorate
Any research degree resulting in the successful
candidate being able to use the title Doctor (eg PhD,
DPhil).

DSc
Doctor of Science. Higher doctorate qualification.

ECTS
European Credit Transfer System. European system
of grading academic work in different countries so
students can use work done abroad as a credit
towards their degree.

Edexcel
Examination board that validates some vocational
qualifications.

EFC
English for Commerce. Widely accepted English test,
on use of English in business.
enrolment
Process of registering as a student at the start of a
course.

entrance examination
Examination or essay test set by an institution to
assess an applicant's academic ability.

ents
Student society within an institution that organises
entertainment events.

essay
Assignment consisting of an extended piece of
writing. May put forward an argument and draw
conclusions.

examination board
1) Regional or national board that validates
qualifications such as GCSEs, A-levels etc. 2)
Committee set up within a university to oversee the
marking and grading of examinations and other work
by students on degree programmes.

extended essay
Essay with a word limit greater than a normal-length
essay.

extension degree
Four-year Bachelor's degree that includes a
foundation or preliminary year.

external examiner
Academic from another institution who checks the
marks and grading of degree awards, in consultation
with an institution's own Examination Board.

fellow
Senior member of the academic staff of a college or
university.

field trip
Trip that students go on as part of their studies.
Students usually have to do practical work while on
the trip.

first-class honours or 'first'


Highest grade given for first degree. An overall mark
of at least 70% is needed to gain first class honours.

foundation course
One-year full-time course to prepare a student for
entry to a degree programme in a particular subject.

freshers' week
See 'intro week'.

full-time
For a study visa, full-time means attendance for at
least 15 hours of organised study each week.
Generally, a full-time course is one where you may
be expected to attend all or part of every weekday.

GCSE
General Certificate of Secondary Education. The first
qualification obtained by students, at the age of
about 16. There is no age limit, and mature or
international students may take GCSE examinations.

GMAT
Graduate Management Admissions Test. Examination
often taken to meet entrance requirements for MBA
programmes.

GNVQ
General National Vocational Qualification. Vocational
qualification, approximately equal to A-level
standard.

Grad Dip
Graduate Diploma. Qualification equivalent to a
Bachelor's degree, awarded by a small number of
institutions.

graduation
Successful completion of a degree or course. Also the
ceremony where students are officially given their
awards.

grant
Money awarded to a student or researcher to assist
their studies.

GSVQ
General Scottish Vocational Qualification. Scottish
equivalent of GNVQ.

GTTR
Graduate Teacher Training Registry. UK national
organisation that administers applications for entry
onto Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)
courses.

hall of residence
Institutional accommodation for students. Also called
'halls'. Halls provide kitchens, bed linen and other
facilities. In some halls, meals are provided, others
are self-catering.

hardship fund
Fund administered by a UK university or college,
making small payments to students with financial
difficulties.

HESA
Higher Education Statistics Agency. UK national
agency that collects and publishes statistical
information on higher education throughout the UK.

higher doctorate
Degree occasionally awarded some time after a PhD.

Higher grade
Scottish qualification that is taken by students aged
between 16 and 18.

HNC
Higher National Certificate. Vocational course
approximately equal to two or three A-levels.

HND
Higher National Diploma. Vocational course
approximately equal to the first two years of a three-
year Bachelor's degree.
honorary degree
Degree title (usually a higher doctorate) awarded as
an honour not for academic work, but for an
outstanding contribution in another field such as
entertainment, philanthropy or community work.

honours
Bachelor's degrees are generally awarded as honours
degrees in one of three classes, First, Second or
Third, depending on the overall marks awarded.
Those who reach the pass mark, but fail to attain a
high enough mark to gain honours graduate with a
pass degree.

International Baccalaureate (IB)


A two-year course approximately equal to three A-
levels. It is available in several countries including
the UK, and is accepted as an entry qualification by
British universities.

IELTS
International English Language Testing System.
English test managed by the British Council and
partner organisations. Available worldwide. One of
the most widely accepted qualifications in the
English language.

IGCSE
International General Certificate of Secondary
Education. Equivalent to GCSE.

in-sessional
During a course. For instance, you may take an in-
sessional English language course during term-time
to complement your other studies.

intermediate
Level above basic but below advanced.

internship
Employment a student (especially of medicine) takes
to gain experience for a qualification.

intro week
An introductory week for new university or college
students which enables them to become familiar with
their institution, its facilities, their course and the
town or city they will be studying in. Also known as
freshers week.

JCR
Junior Common Room. Room or area set aside for use
by students. Also an area within a hall of residence
that holds events for student residents.

joint honours
Type of first degree where a student studies two
subjects in equal depth. For example English and
French, or maths and computer Science.

KET
Key English Test. Basic English language qualification.
Managed by the University of Cambridge Local
Examinations Syndicate (UCLES).

LCCI
London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Examination board validating some English language
and other tests.
LEA
Local Educational Authority. Part of local government
in the UK that administers education up to college
level in a particular district. Universities are not
governed by LEAs.

lecture
Educational talk given by a member of teaching staff
to a (usually large) group of students.

LEONARDO
Exchange programme that enables students to study
or work in another European country.

LINGUA
Part of the SOCRATES programme which aims to
increase people's competence in modern European
languages.

live in
Living on campus, eg in a hall of residence.

live out
Living off campus, eg in a private house, or rented
flat.

LLB
Bachelor of Law.

LLM
Master of Law.

long vacation
The vacation between years of a first-degree course,
usually lasting for three months between July and
October.

MA
Postgraduate degree qualification, or Scottish first
degree, Master of Arts.

manuscript
Hand written document. Completed set of
examination answers, or other assignment.

mature student
Students above the age of 21 in England, Wales and
Northern Ireland, or above 20 years of age in
Scotland.

MBA
Master of Business Administration. Postgraduate
degree in management, finance and other aspects of
business.

MEng
Master of Engineering.

merit
Grade below a distinction but above a pass.

modular
Programme of studies that consists of a number of
units or short courses. Students are given a mark or
grade for each module, and accumulate points for an
overall grade for their course.
module
Short course taken as part of some degree
programmes. Students can customise their degree
programme by their choice of modules.

MPhil
Master of Philosophy.

MSc
Master of Science.

NARIC
National Academic Recognition Information Centre.
UK NARIC is an organisation that gives advice on the
comparability of international and UK qualifications,
and promotes UK qualifications overseas.

new university
Any of the universities established in the 1960s.

newsletter
Small magazine or booklet, describing events in a
particular institution or society. Alumni associations
regularly send newsletters to members throughout
the world containing news items about their college.

nightline
Student-run telephone service that offers
information, listings and discusses personal issues in
confidence.

NMAS
Nursing and Midwifery Admissions Service. UK
national organisation that administers applications
for entry onto courses in nursing.

NUS
The National Union of Students. If an institution's
Students' Union is affiliated to the NUS, their
students automatically become members of the NUS.

NVQ
National Vocational Qualification. A first qualification
related to an area of employment.

old university
Type of institution historically linked to the Church,
and established between the 13th and 15th
Centuries. Oxford and Cambridge are old universities.

open examination
Examination where the student can refer to books or
notes and may be able to take the question paper
away and return it by a certain time.

ordinary degree
Degree programme where successful students are
not graded, but simply pass or fail. Sometimes also
used in same sense as 'pass degree'.

ORSAS
Overseas Research Students Awards Scheme. Annual
UK governmental scheme making awards annually to
pay the difference between 'home' and 'overseas'
fees for selected research students.

overhead projector
Device that projects and enlarges acetates on a
white screen or wall using an overhead mirror.

part-time
Course where students attend a limited number of
days or evenings each week. Any course that
requires less than 15 hours attendance a week is
part-time for the purposes of visa regulations.

pass
Satisfactory mark in examination or course.

pass-degree
Bachelor's degree grading with insufficient marks to
earn honours.

PET
Preliminary English Test. English test managed by
UCLES. Not advanced enough to meet university
entrance requirements.

PG Cert
Postgraduate Certificate.

PG Dip
Postgraduate Diploma.

PGCE
Postgraduate Certificate in Education. Qualification
allowing holder to teach in primary or secondary
schools in the UK. Taken as a one-year full-time
programme after completing a Bachelor's degree.

PhD
Doctor of Philosophy.
plagiarism
To take the work, words or ideas of someone else and
pretend they are your own. Universities and colleges
heavily penalise anyone caught plagiarising.

polytechnic
Former type of degree-awarding higher education
institution in the UK. All polytechnics were elevated
to university status in 1992.

portfolio
Collection of original work. May be assessed to
contribute to the mark a student receives on their
course.

practical
Non-written work that is performed by a student
either alone or as a member of a group.

pre-degree course
Any course, especially an Access, Foundation or
Certificate course taken to meet university entry
requirements for a degree programme.

pre-sessional
Short course that runs before another longer course.
For example, a pre-sessional English language course
may run in July and August, to prepare students for a
degree programme beginning in September.

private college
College that is not subsidised by the government but
is owned and run by private individuals.
professor
Title sometimes given to a senior academic following
several years successful teaching and research, and
election by the senior academics at an institution.

prospectus
Brochure published by a university or college
advertising their institution and courses and to
encourage student recruitment.

QTS
Qualified Teacher Status. Necessary qualification to
teach in primary or secondary education in the UK,
obtained by taking a Bachelor's degree in education
or Bachelor's degree in another subject followed by a
PGCE.

Rag
Student society that raises money through holding
fund-raising events, often taking place during an
annual 'rag week'.

reading list
List of books students are expected to read for their
particular course.

reading week
Week during term-time when students are expected
to concentrate on reading and studying for their
course. There are usually no lectures or seminars
during this period.

redbrick
Universities that were founded in the late 19th and
early 20th Centuries.

refectory
Any cafeteria, restaurant or dining room for general
use in a college or university.

referee
Person to whom enquiries about your academic and
other abilities and character can be made.

reference
Statement (usually written) about a person's abilities
and character.

research assistant
Person (usually a postgraduate student) appointed to
help an academic or team on a research project.

research associate
Co-worker on a research programme. Often someone
who already has a research degree.

Research Councils
UK national councils which administer funding for
research programmes in their respective disciplines.

research fellow
Senior academic whose work at an institution is
mainly research and supervision of other
researchers.

resit
To re-take an examination, usually because of failure
or gaining a low mark in the previous examination.

RSA
Royal Society of Arts. UK national organisation that
validates several vocational qualifications.

sandwich course
Course that includes a long period of work
experience. Degree sandwich courses usually last
four years, with one whole year spent on a work
placement.

SAT
Scholastic Aptitude Test. US test used as college
entrance examination.

SCE
Scottish Certificate of Education. Equivalent to a
GCSE.

scholarship
Money award made to support a student's education.
It is often awarded on the basis of academic
achievement.

SCR
Senior Common Room. Room or area set aside for
staff within an institution. Social organisation for staff
of an institution.

second-class honours
Most graduates of Bachelor's degree programmes
achieve second-class honours. This grade is therefore
divided into two divisions, upper and lower, written 2
i and 2 ii, or 2:1 and 2:2, and called; 'two-one' and
'two-two'.

SEFIC
Spoken English for Industry and Commerce. Type of
English language test. Widely accepted.

self-catering halls
Halls of residence where students have to prepare
their own meals. These residences have kitchens that
students share.

self-contained
Accommodation in a larger building which has its
own kitchen and bathroom and a private entrance.

semester
Term lasting half an academic year.

seminar
Small class where students discuss a topic with a
lecturer or tutor. Questions are encouraged, but
discussion is less free than in a tutorial, and not
everyone present will necessarily be expected to
contribute to the discussion.

single honours
Type of first degree awarded for study in only one
subject, such as law or medicine.

SOCRATES-ERASMUS
Exchange scheme which enables European students
to spend time studying or working in another
European country.
special needs
General term for any condition, physical or mental
that results in someone needing special educational
facilities.

sponsor
Person or organisation that accepts responsibility for
all or part of a student's fees or expenses.

SQA
Scottish Qualifications Authority. Body that is
responsible for accrediting, awarding and developing
academic and vocational qualifications in Scotland.

student societies
Groups with a shared general interest that students
join, eg rowing, Christian, Sociology. Student
societies can be political, cultural, departmental,
religious or sports-related.

SU
Abbreviation for Students' Union. Also called Union of
Students.

summer school
Courses and lectures that are held during the
summer vacation.

taught masters
Postgraduate degree that is taught in a similar way
to first degrees, and does not include original
research.
TEMPUS
The Trans-European Mobility Programme for
University Students. Encourages students to study
part of their course in a different European country.

term
Period of continuous study without vacations. In the
UK, the academic year is normally split into three
terms. In universities, these terms are between eight
and twelve weeks long, with a long vacation in the
summer months.

TESOL
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
High-level Certificate and Diploma qualifications
validated by Trinity College London.

thesis
Dissertation containing results of original research to
support a particular argument, usually written by a
candidate for an academic degree.

third-class honours
Lowest honours grading for a Bachelor's degree.
Called a 'third'.

TOEFL
Test of English as a Foreign Language. Internationally
recognised English test, available in over 100
countries. Widely accepted by UK institutions.

transcript
Detailed list of classes or courses a student has taken
at college or university, with marks or grades for
each subject.

tutor
University or college lecturer who supervises the
welfare and studies of assigned undergraduates.

tutorial
Class for a small number of students, led by a tutor,
where one topic is discussed in depth. The topic may
be introduced by a student, and everyone is
expected to contribute to the discussion.

UCAS
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. UK
national organisation that administers applications
for entry onto full-time first degree and similar
programmes.

UCLES
University of Cambridge Local Examinations
Syndicate. Examination board that validates and
manages several English language and other tests.

UKCOSA
The Council for International Education. UK
organisation offering advice to international
students.

unit
Single item or element which is part of a whole. Many
courses in the UK are divided up into units.

university college
Degree-awarding institution equivalent in status to a
university.

Validation
Process of defining academic level of a course, and of
setting the syllabus and standards for marking and
grading. UK universities validate their own degrees.

viva (voce)
Interview between members of an Examination
Board and a student, on the material studied on a
course to confirm a degree grading.

vocational qualification
Qualification aimed at preparing students for
employment, usually with practical experience as
part of the course.

warden
Person responsible for the supervision of halls of
residence.

word limit
Limit to the number of words that can be written in
an essay or dissertation. Varies from about 500
words to over 20,000, depending on its value in a
student's overall mark or grade for a course.

work experience
Practical experience gained on a work placement.

work placement
The part of a course which gives students the
opportunity to gain practical experience of working in
their chosen profession before graduation. Students
may spend up to a year on work placement,
especially on a sandwich course.