During your first week of university, and even your first year, things can seem a little overwhelming. Higher Education jargon gets thrown about on campus on a daily basis and can leave newcomers a bit confused and out of the loop. Here is a higher education glossary, which is a definitive guide to words and phrases that you may hear whilst you are studying at university, as well as what they mean.

The GRB higher education glossary


Access bursaries and hardship funds

Provided by the government to give financial help to students where access to education may be inhibited by financial considerations.  The money is administered by individual institutions and does not have to be paid back.

Access courses

Access courses are designed to prepare students who do not have standard entry qualifications for higher education courses.

Ad hoc recruiting

Used to describe recruitment activity of employers (usually small to medium sized) who look for graduates as and when they need them.

Admissions tutor

A member of staff based in a university department who is in charge of admissions to that particular course.


Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services.

Application form

Form you fill in to apply for a job. May be one of the following: a Standard Application Form (SAF), an Employer Application Form (EAF), or an Online Application Form.


A graduate of a particular university (plural = alumni).

Assessment centres

You may be called to attend one of these several weeks after submitting an application form, and after having an initial screening interview. It may simply involve a further interview. Or it could last two to three days and involve a variety of activities such as further interviews (including panel interviews), group exercises, presentations, written tests, in-tray exercises and perhaps a technical interview.



Buildings and land which make up a university.

Careers service

The careers service offers support to students studying at that particular institution. This includes help with exploring career ideas, further study and help with finding work when you graduate.  It may also include help with finding a part-time or summer job whilst you are studying.


A system operated by UCAS which allows students to identify and apply to places on courses that still have vacancies, after the publication of A level and other equivalent results.

Combined honours degree

A degree programme usually made up of two or three main areas of study.


Specialist knowledge needed to do a particular job. Can sometimes be called skills.

Communication skills

The transfer of opinions, ideas, knowledge and/or skills through various media, such as verbal, visual and written.

Core skills

Skills that are specific to a subject, task or job, e.g. a musician plays a musical instrument.

Continuing professional development (CPD)

A range of short and long training programmes, some of which have an option of accreditation, which foster the development of employment-related knowledge, skills and understanding.

Curriculum 2000

Curriculum 2000 is post-16 curriculum in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The programmes include A levels, vocational A levels and a key skills qualification.

Mouse and Keyboard



Academic member of staff in charge of a faculty or department


Qualification awarded after the successful completion of undergraduate study. BA (Bachelor of Arts) for a first degree in Arts and BSc (Bachelor of Science) for a first degree in Science, are the two most common undergraduate degrees. Degrees can be studied as a single subject (single honours), two subjects (joint honours) or two or three subjects (combined honours).

Degree classifications

Honours degrees are divided into 4 'classes':

  • 1 - or first class, the highest level
  • 2.1 - upper second class
  • 2.2 - lower second class
  • 3 - third class

A degree without honours is known as a 'pass' degree or an ordinary degree.

Diploma of higher education (Dip HE)

This qualification is the equivalent to completing two years of degree study. Many students use this course as a vehicle to continue onto a first degree, but it is also a qualification in its own right. Courses are mainly taken in colleges of higher education and can include nursing, social work, music, and art and design.


A book/magazine containing details of employers/vacancies. Usually free, you can pick up a selection in or around the foyer of your careers service.


Subject of study, e.g. computer science.

Distance learning

Study that doesn't involve physically attending the university. Makes use of the TV, radio, post, CD-ROMs, video and increasingly the Internet.

DLHE - Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education

Essentially, information on what graduates do after leaving university. Universities have to submit statistics to HESA (Higher Educational Statistics Agency) so, approximately 6 months after you graduate, they will send you a questionnaire asking what you are doing. These results are often used to calculate league tables of HE Institutions.



The extent to which you are suited to employment, via skills, qualities and knowledge. Read about graduate employability skills here.


A person employed by another in return for wages.



Individual subjects within universities are grouped into faculties or schools, e.g. English would be part of the Faculty of Arts along with subjects such as modern languages.


An event where employers market themselves to you! Employers have exhibition stands, often with recent graduates on hand to tell you about their company, vacancies, recruitment procedures etc.

First destinations

Information on what university graduates do when they leave.

Foundation degree

A vocational degree, which is two years full-time or three years if taken as a sandwich course. A foundation degree can lead straight on to a first degree, which could be completed in twelve months. Entry requirements are at least one A level (or equivalent) or a vocational qualification at level 3, e.g. NVQ.


First year students are often called freshers during their first couple of weeks at university. Freshers have the opportunity to find out more about the university and societies on offer during a Freshers Fair or Freshers Week.


Gap year/year out

Time spent working or travelling (usually up to a year) after finishing A levels or equivalent study and starting university. Many students also choose to take a gap year on completing their undergraduate studies. Visit our Gap Year and Work Abroad section for more information


Someone who has successfully completed a degree.

Mountains and Lake


Halls of residence

Communal accommodation for students, usually on campus or nearby which offer full or half board facilities (meals provided) or self-catering.  First year students are often given preference for a place in a hall of residence.


The abbreviation for higher education.

Higher national diploma (HND)

These are as foundation degrees with the same level of study and entry requirements. Subjects are occupationally based and include Engineering, Business and Horticulture.



International Baccalaureat - an internationally recognised alternative to A Levels.


Institute of higher education.

Information centre

Holds a whole range of resources and information to help you get started - on what options to do within your degree, on employers, occupations on further study and much more.


A period of work experience, lasting from a few weeks to a year. Can also be called a placement.

Initial screening interview

May be carried out on the telephone, or after receipt of application form. Used to draw up a short list.

In-tray exercise

Often encountered at assessment centres, in business games, or on insight courses .You may be given a variety of written material and asked what action you would take with each item. You'll be asked to do this within a set time, usually quite restricted. Additional items may be added while the exercise is under way.

Insight course

A two or three day course which offers you the chance to try out various jobs for real in specially designed case studies, and get a feel for the demands and pressure of an industry. Courses are normally held in vacation time, are very popular and can cost around £20-£35.


Job shop

Advertises part-time, term-time and vacation work available to students. It also offers information on working hours, minimum wage, tax and insurance.

Joint honours degree

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



Master of Arts - a higher level degree award that normally follows on from a BA.

Major/Minor courses

In these courses students choose two subjects to study, one of which is studied over a longer period than the other.

Mature student

Student entering higher education at age 21 or above.

Milk round

Describes the activity of employers coming to universities to recruit. Used to be concentrated in the Autumn, but with year round recruiting, the term is less common.

Minimum wage

The legal hourly minimum that adults can be paid in the UK.

Modular courses

Many universities divide degree courses into modules. Students are required to pass a certain number of modules to complete a programme.

Students in Class



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 of £25.

National insurance (NI) number

You need this as soon as you start any work. Only one number is allocated to you and you keep that same number all your life. It is unique to you and ensures the Inland Revenue correctly record NI contributions or credits to your NI account. You will need these contributions and credits when you come to claim benefit, whether it is for a short while, like Incapacity Benefit or long term, such as your Retirement Pension.

New universities

'New' universities, or the old polytechnics are commonly called post-92 institutions and achieved their university status over a decade ago.


Using your contacts - friends, relatives, lecturers and developing and maintaining this wide range of contacts to help you to tap into the hidden job market. Hundreds of jobs go unadvertised every week, filled by networking and word of mouth.


Panel interview

Most common with public sector employers - universities, civil service etc. Can be as many as five interviewers, although that's very unusual. Two or three is the norm. Typically drawn from different functions, e.g. personnel, line management, technical.

Personality profiling

Sometimes used by employers to gain an insight into your working style/attitudes.


Postgraduate Certificate of Education - a one-year teaching qualification for people who already possess a degree.


A period of work experience, paid or unpaid which is part of a course. Can be arranged by yourself or by the university.

Postgraduate study

Course of study taken after a first degree. These are divided into taught programmes such as Masters degrees and postgraduate diplomas/certificates and research programmes such as PhDs and MPhils.

Practice interview sessions

One or two hour sessions where a careers adviser puts you and two other students through practice interviews. After, you get a chance to discuss your performance, confirm good points and work out improvements.


Given by employers. Usually aimed at second and final year students. Most take place in the evening, some at lunchtime on campus or in local hotels. Food and drink is often provided. They provide an opportunity for employers to tell you about themselves and the vacancies they have. Some presentations include videos, small discussion groups or case studies, others are mainly talks. Many employers bring along recent graduate recruits. You'll have a chance to ask questions, get an idea of the company culture and be encouraged to sign up online.

You'll also encounter presentations when at an assessment centre. You may be asked to give a short talk on a topic, either related to the organisation, or on something of personal interest. You may have been given the subject in advance - or you may not!

Professional body

Organisation which offers qualifications and sets examinations. Usually charges a fee for students/members to join. Examples are the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants, CIHE (Chartered Institute Of Housing), IEE (Institution of Electrical Engineers).

Professional qualification

Courses leading to professional qualification, taken after graduation offered directly by professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) etc. These are mostly part time and undertaken alongside your job. Often the employer sets up the arrangement.

Prospects planner

A computer-aided guidance program. It won't tell you which job you should do but it will help you consider your skills and interests. Normally available on PCs in the careers service.

Psychometric testing

Tests to measure mental abilities and qualities. Used by some employers at the second interview stage.


RAE Research Assessment Exercise

Research rating for individual university departments.


The process of finding the right person for the job. This can include interviews, application forms, assessment centres and pyschometric tests etc.

Redbrick universities

Founded in the late 19th or early 20th century, e.g.. The University of Manchester, University of Leeds and University of Bristol.

Russell Group

An informal self-selected representative body from research-led institutions.


Sandwich courses

These involve alternating periods of study and work-related experience, which usually extends the course to four years.


An academic year is divided into either two semesters or 3 terms.

Single honours degree

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

Speculative application

Sending a CV and covering letter to an employer asking whether they can offer jobs or work experience, without a job being advertised.


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 loan

The main source of help for students towards living costs is the student loan. The government provides these low interest loans. Graduates do not need to begin repayment of loans until they have reached a specific level of income.

Subject review/Teaching quality assessments

Academic departments are regularly assessed on the teaching provision within specific areas on a scale of 7-24.


Technical interview

Have a low profile - technical questions may be asked as part of general interview for science and engineering positions. Typical questions refer to course projects, special options or work placements. Separate technical interviews which test in-depth theoretical knowledge are mainly given to applicants for research posts.

Telephone interviews

Often used as a pre-screening device. Successful interviewees are invited for face-to face or second interview.

Term time work

Work undertaken in term time only. A university job shop advertises jobs which offer a maximum of 12-15 hours a week during term. This allows time for academic study. A job shop will not advertise vacancies that exceed this limit, although students can work for as many hours as they like during vacations.

Transferable skills

Used to describe a range of skills applicable to many jobs, for example: communication, teamworking, presentation, numeracy.

Tuition fees

Tuition fees are set by the university, and currently the maximum per year is £9,000. When you take out a student loan plan, you will not receive the tuition fee money - this will be paid directly to your university.

Students Graduating



Universities and Colleges Admissions Service for the UK. UCAS is the organisation that centrally administers the HE undergraduate application process. It represents the 325 universities and colleges that make up the higher education (HE) sector.


A student undertaking a first degree.  Students are referred to as graduates when they have completed their degree.


Vacation work

Used to describe paid work during vacation periods usually during the summer, but can sometimes be at Christmas or Easter. Vacancies are usually advertised by the university job shop.


The head of a university or higher education institution, in charge of the day to day running of the institution.  The Chancellor is the non-resident honorary head of a university.

Vocational courses

A course designed to train you for a specific job or career. These courses may be essential for entry.

Voluntary work

Work undertaken for no pay. Can cover anything from a few days with a local organisation to a six month project for a charity in a far flung corner of the world. It may be one way to get into (or at least gain experience in) a popular occupation. It will undoubtedly add a range of skills and experience to your CV and you may also make contacts so you can do some networking later.


Widening participation

Encouraging and supporting people who have the ability, motivation and potential to thrive at university, but who come from groups that are currently under-represented in higher education.

Work shadowing

Observing someone doing their job, to gain an understanding of what they do.

Written tests

Employers are sometimes interested in specific attributes such as verbal, numerical or diagrammatic reasoning ability. Also called aptitude tests


Year round recruiting

Term used to describe how employers recruit - such employers do not usually have closing dates for applications.

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