Higher education jargon explained
Like every other walk of life, UK higher education has its own distinct terminology and jargon. To help you make sense of this we have listed the most common terms that you are likely to come across when navigating the UK university process.
Admissions: A team of people in each university that process student applications.
Academic year: This is the university year, which usually runs from September to July.
BA: This is the abbreviation for Bachelor of Art. This is a type of degree traditionally awarded to those subjects based in the field of Art. However, this is a very broad category and can include subject areas such as Social Sciences and English.
Bachelors degree: A degree awarded by a college or university to a person who has completed undergraduate studies. They are typically 3 years for most degree subjects, 4 years for Engineering and 5 years for Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary.
BEng: This is the abbreviation for Bachelor of Engineering. This type of degree is awarded to those subjects based in the field of Engineering.
BSc: This is the abbreviation for Bachelor of Science. This type of degree is traditionally awarded to subjects based in the field of Science and Social Science. The BSc degree is not limited to traditional sciences.
Conservatoire: A provider of performance-based music, dance and drama courses.
Combined or Joint honours degree: A type of degree where you study two subjects.
Dissertation: A dissertation is normally a long report, based on research undertaken by the students themselves.
Entry requirements: a set of criteria that a student needs to meet to gain entry to a degree programme. This could include certain grades or to have previously studied certain subjects or to have a certain amount of work experience etc.
Fee Status: the status that determines what tuition fee a student will pay when they apply to university in the UK which is either Home/EU or Overseas.
First class honours: Most UK universities use a degree classification system. First class honours or a ‘first’ is the highest level degree awarded.
Foundation degree programme: This is a programme designed to prepare students who have acceptable qualifications for general university entry, but do not have the appropriate level or coverage for a specific degree programme.
Fresher: This is the term commonly used to describe students in their first year at university.
Graduate: This is the term used for a person who has completed and passed his or her degree and been awarded their qualification
HE (Higher Education): This is education and training for students of 18 years and older, who have completed the required amount of study in further education, (college or sixth form). Institutions such as universities often provide higher education in the form of degree programmes.
Honours degree (Hons): This is a degree programme taken at university. It is normally a first degree which lasts three or four years. An honours degree requires extra modules/units to be studied in comparison to an Ordinary Degree, often in the form of a dissertation.
Humanities: Typically covers ‘Arts’ subjects such as history, literature, Classics, theology film, modern languages and drama.
LLB: Bachelor of Laws. The accreditation given to Law degrees which allows for progression onto further training to become a barrister or solicitor.
Masters degree (MA, MSc, Meng, Med, MPhil): Masters degrees are taught courses which allow students to extend their learning for one to two years after they have graduated from their first (Bachelors) degree. MA is the abbreviation for Master of Arts, a postgraduate qualification, but it can also be an undergraduate degree studied at one of the UK’s ancient universities such as St Andrews, Oxford and Cambridge. An MSci is a Master of Science. An MEng is a Master of Engineering. An MEd is a Master of Education and is specific to education subjects. Confusingly an MPhil is a Master of Philosophy but rather than being in the subject of Philosophy, it is a research-focused masters and can be in any subject.
Module: A module is a unit of study that explores a specific area within a subject.
Ordinary degree: Generally this is a degree passed without honours. Some universities offer ordinary degree courses in their own right but ordinary degrees can also be awarded to those students who complete an honours degree but without achieving the conditions required to gain honours.
Placement year/ Sandwich year: This is a year of either work experience or study placement in another institution, which can be an optional or compulsory part of a university course. Students can opt to take their placement year in another country.
PhD: Also known as a doctorate, this is the highest form of degree awarded and involves you carrying out research with little or no teaching. You need to have completed at least an undergraduate degree to study at this level.
Postgraduate: A student who has completed an undergraduate degree and is studying for a higher degree such as a masters or PhD.
Second class honours: Most UK universities use a degree classification system. The highest level is ‘first’ with second class honours broken down into two further classifications – upper division (2:1) and lower division (2:2). An upper second or first class degree is often required for entry into postgraduate courses in the UK.
Single honours: This is an honours degree course in which a student studies a single subject.
Third class honours: Third class honours is typically the lowest degree classification awarded.
UCAS (The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service): An organisation that manages the application system for UK universities.
Undergraduate: A student studying for their first degree on a programme which normally lasts for three or four years.
Undergraduate masters: Four year degrees such as Masters of Engineering (MEng), Masters of Science (MSci) etc which comprise three years of undergraduate level study, with a further year to gain a Masters qualification.
University: A university is an institute of higher education which has the authority to award bachelors and higher degrees and which usually has research facilities.
University groups: institutions that form alliances when they share common goals, visions or characteristics.