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Access agreements
Agreements submitted by HEIs to OFFA, which indicate how institutions intend to:
  • support improvements in participation rates in higher education from under-represented groups
  • where appropriate, increase the amount of funding available for bursaries and/or for outreach work with schools, FE colleges and so on.
Access courses
Access courses are designed to prepare students who do not have standard entry qualifications for higher education courses.
Access to learning funds
Government money given to universities and colleges via the UK HE funding councils to assist students in financial difficulty with their living costs. Funds may be used to provide bursaries for students who might be deterred from entering higher education. They can also be used to waive tuition fees for part-time students on benefits, or who become unemployed during their course.
The process through which institutions and individuals are expected to demonstrate the fulfilment of their obligations, including the proper use of public funds.
Accreditation is the approval of a higher education course by an authorised body.
Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL), Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL)
A general term used for the award of credit on the basis of demonstrated learning that has occurred at some time in the past. This learning may have come about as the result of a course, or self-directed study, or as the result of experience either at work or in leisure pursuits.
admin-hefce is an e-mail list to enable HEFCE to distribute information to the institutions it funds. It is not a discussion list. Anyone can join this free service, and it is particularly relevant to people in administrative positions.
Annual accountability returns exercise
A streamlined accountability process between HEFCE and institutions, linked to an assessment of institutional risk, which comprises an exchange of documents and dialogue during a specific period each year.

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A process through which practices are analysed to provide a standard measurement ('benchmark') of effective performance within an organisation (such as a university). Benchmarks are also used to compare performance with other organisations and other sectors.

Blended learning

A method of educating that uses e-learning techniques, such as online delivery through the web, discussion boards and e-mail, combined with traditional face to face lectures, seminars, and tutorials.

Block grant

The total amount of funding provided by the Council to an institution for teaching and research.

 Bologna Declaration, Bologna Process

In 1999 Education ministers from around 30 countries undertook in a joint declaration (the Bologna Declaration) to establish a European area of higher education by 2010. This includes, for example, enabling students to study in other European countries, and ensuring that their qualifications and skills are transferable. The ongoing work to achieve this is the Bologna process.

BTEC courses

Vocational courses validated by Edexcel.


Bursaries (and scholarships) are financial help for students primarily from poorer backgrounds that are aimed at easing the transition into higher education and help them successfully complete their studies. Most are means-tested, but some are based on other criteria such as academic merit.

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Collaborative arrangements

A general term for arrangements between two or more institutions (universities, higher education colleges or further education colleges) for joint activity.


Relationships between HEIs and schools to encourage pupils to study at the HEI.

Continuing education (CE)

Continuing education students are on courses normally lasting less than one year; they are usually part-time. Continuing education can be award-bearing or non-award bearing and vocational or non-vocational.

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.

Core funding 

HEFCE funds provided to an institution for teaching, research and related activities. Core funding is allocated by formula. Institutions can spend it according to their own priorities, within HEFCE's broad guidelines.

Credit accumulation and transfer schemes (CATS)

Arrangements within institutions which determine student progression towards defined learning outcomes, including formal qualifications, and recognition of these arrangements between institutions to facilitate the transfer of students.

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Degree course

A course of higher education leading to the award of a foundation, bachelor's or master's degree.


Department of Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland; the department of government responsible for higher education in Northern Ireland.

Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)

Formerly the department of UK government with ultimate responsibility for education and children's services. It was renamed the Department for Education in May 2010.

Department for Education (DfE)

The department of UK government with ultimate responsibility for education and children's services. Formerly the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Department for Education and Skills, DfES (now BIS and DfE)

Formerly the department of UK government with ultimate responsibility for all sectors of education. It was split into the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills in July 2007.

Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (now BIS)

Between July 2007 and June 2009 the department of UK government with ultimate responsibility for higher education in England. Before 2007 it was part of the Department for Education and Skills and in June 2009 it merged with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to form BIS.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

The department of UK government with ultimate responsibility for higher education in England. It was formed in June 2009 from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.


A qualification awarded for a course of higher education.

Distance learning

Instruction provided at a distance to students who do not normally attend lectures and tutorials at the institution. It can involve learning through TV, radio, correspondence, computer network, CD-ROM and video.


A broad term to describe the range of visible and invisible differences between people and institutions. It can mean the varieties of learners with different backgrounds, requiring varied methods of entry to courses and of instruction. It is also used to describe the variety of provision available in the higher education sector and the different types of institution which deliver it.

Dual-support system

The system of funding research, partly by HEFCE and partly by the Research Councils.

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Edexcel is a UK examining and awarding body. It provides a wide range of qualifications including at higher education level.


The delivery of content via electronic media, such as the internet, video, interactive TV and CD-ROM. E-learning encompasses all learning undertaken, whether formal or informal, through electronic delivery.

Employability skills

The transferable core skills that represent functional and enabling knowledge, skills, and attitudes required in today's workplace. They are necessary for career success at all levels of employment and for all levels of education.

Equal opportunities

The process of ensuring that everyone is entitled to freedom from discrimination. Areas specifically covered by the law currently are gender, race, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief. Age discrimination will be unlawful from 2006.


A scheme in which students can spend time abroad as part of their study at a UK higher education institution.

Estate Management Statistics

Estate Management Statistics is a service collecting data on estates performance from UK higher education institutions. It produces a CD-ROM annually containing tools and time-series data for HEIs to analyse.

Exempt charity

Exempt charities are those charities exempt from registration with the Charity Commission. Most HEIs that HEFCE funds are exempt charities; HEFCE became their principal regulator on 1 June 2010. 

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See Tuition fees

Financial memorandum

The financial memorandum is an agreement between HEFCE and the institutions it funds that sets out the terms and conditions for payment of HEFCE grants.

Foundation course

A recognised HE course designed to prepare students who have qualifications which are acceptable for entry in general, but are not appropriate to a specific course of study. Foundation courses are also used as Year 0 of a degree course to enable students with non-traditional qualifications to participate in HE by using Year 0 as a preparatory year for a full degree programme.

Foundation degree

Foundation degrees are two-year higher education qualifications that were first offered in 2001-02. They are designed to meet skills shortages at the higher technician and associate professional levels. Foundation degrees are one level below the honours degree.


Full-person equivalent. In order to accurately measure HE provision where students are taught at more than one institution or are studying more than one subject, we split head-counts across the institutions/subjects involved in proportion to the activity in each – this results in counts of full-person equivalents. This gives a more accurate measure than direct head-counts, where the student would have to be arbitrarily assigned to one of the teaching institutions and/or one of the subjects.


The agreement by one institution (usually an HEI) that another institution may deliver all or part of a programme approved and owned by the first institution. The franchising institution normally retains overall control of the programme's content, delivery, assessment and quality assurance arrangements.


Full-time equivalent. For comparison and funding purposes, numbers of part-time students and staff are converted to full-time equivalents. This is because a direct head-count is often a poor indication of the actual volume of activity.

Full economic cost

The full economic cost of an activity incorporates all direct and indirect costs, including all cost adjustments required under the Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) methodology.

Funding agreement

See Financial memorandum

Funding council

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) comprise the funding councils for higher education in the UK. There is no funding council for Northern Ireland, where HEIs are funded directly by the Department of Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland (DELNI).

Further education

Further education is for people over compulsory school age (currently 16 in England) which does not take place in a secondary school. It may be in a sixth-form college, a further education college or a higher education institution. Further education courses are generally up to the standard of GCE A-level or NVQ Level 3.

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Governing body

The university court (in Scotland), council, board of governors or other body ultimately responsible for the affairs of a higher education institution. This will contain a large number of 'lay members' who are not from within the higher education sector and give their time voluntarily.


Someone who has attained a bachelor's or higher degree.

Grant letter

The Secretary of State sends an annual grant letter to HEFCE that sets out the Government's resources and priorities for higher education.


One the two representative bodies for higher education in the UK

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Higher Education Funding Council for England.


Higher education institution (university or college of higher education).


The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects, analyses and reports on HE statistics for universities and colleges in the UK.


The Higher Education Students Early Statistics Survey is HEFCE's main annual survey of students on recognised higher education courses at HEIs. It informs HEFCE's funding for teaching.


The Higher Education in Further Education: Students Survey is HEFCE's main annual survey of students on recognised higher education courses at further education colleges. It informs HEFCE's funding for teaching.

Higher degree

Degree above bachelor's level such as master's degree or doctorate.

Higher education

Higher education courses are programmes leading to qualifications, or credits which can be counted towards qualifications, which are above the standard of GCE A-levels or other Level 3 qualifications. They include degree courses, postgraduate courses and Higher National Diplomas. Higher education takes place in universities and higher education colleges, and in some further education colleges.

Higher Education Academy

The Higher Education Academy works to help universities, colleges and others to deliver the best possible learning experience for all students. The academy was formed in 2004 from a merger of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN), and the TQEF National Co-ordination Team.

Higher education colleges

HE colleges are divided into specialist colleges dealing mainly with one subject area, such as music, art and design or teacher training; and more general colleges offering a range of courses, particularly in business, humanities and education.Higher education institutionA higher education institution is a university or higher education college.


Higher National Certificate, Higher National Diploma.

Home students

These are students normally resident in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They do not include students living in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Honours degree

A bachelor's degree with honours covering greater depth than a general or ordinary BA or BSc degree.

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Information and communication technologies. The broad subject concerned with all aspects of managing and processing information electronically, on databases or in libraries.

Initial teacher training (ITT)

A course that leads to a qualification as a teacher. ITT is funded by the Training and Development Agency for Schools.


A general term for education institutions, which may include universities, higher education colleges and further education colleges.

Island students

Students from the Isle of Man or Channel Islands.

Intellectual property rights (IPR)

Intellectual property rights protect the creator's right to be appropriately acknowledged for their work, such as an invention or a manuscript.IPR gives the creator a means of controlling how their protected work is exploited, thereby ensuring that they are properly rewarded for their creative endeavours. Includes patents, registered trademarks and copyright.

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High-speed computer network for the academic community.


An e-mail list service to facilitate discussion, collaboration and communication within the UK academic community.     

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Knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer is the process by which HEIs' knowledge, expertise and intellectually linked assets are constructively applied beyond HE for the wider benefit of the economy and society, through two-way engagement with business, the public sector, cultural and community partners. 

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Local area network - a computer network linking parts of an institution.

Leadership Foundation

The Leadership Foundation provides a dedicated service of support and advice on leadership, governance and management for all the UK's higher education institutions.


Level of study refers to undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG).

Lifelong learning

Defined by the Government as all post-16 learning, but applying specifically to learning by adults who are already in the workplace and need special part-time provision, or to learning that adults may wish to undertake to enrich their lives.

Lifelong Learning Networks

A new HEFCE initiative to improve progression into and through higher education, which will involve a wide range of organisations at a national, regional and local level.


Until 2010, the Learning and Skills Council was responsible for funding and planning education and training for over 16-year-olds in England. It has been succeeded by the Skills Funding Agency and the Young People's Learning Agency.

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Masters degree (MA/MSc/MPhil/MEd)

MA/MSc degrees are awarded to graduates who have undertaken a further course of study, after an honours degree, either full-time or part-time.Masters degrees may be taken following a period of work experience and some courses take the form of company training programmes. MPhil degrees may be awarded following a period of research rather than a course of study.


Mode of study refers to full-time, part-time or sandwich.

Modular degree/modularisation

A programme of study in which a student chooses a number of short courses or modules, the satisfactory completion of which leads to a degree.

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Non-continuation or 'drop-out' rates

The proportion of students who do not complete their course, for a variety of reasons, including financial difficulties.   

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Office for Fair Access (OFFA)

OFFA is a non departmental public body set up in 2004 to promote and safeguard fair access to higher education for under-represented groups, in light of the introduction of variable tuition fees in 2006-07.

Office of Science and Technology (OST)

The Office of Science and Technology is the department of UK government with responsibility for science, engineering and technology and their uses to benefit society and the economy.


The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) aims to improve standards of achievement and quality of education through regular independent inspection, public reporting and informed advice. Ofsted is responsible for assessing the quality of initial teacher training.

Ordinary degree

A bachelor's degree awarded without honours (see honours degree above).

Overseas students

Overseas students are defined as students from outside the European Community.

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Performance indicators

A set of indicators produced by HESA which measure the performance of higher education institutions in the UK in a number of areas.

Postgraduate student

A student on a course which normally requires a first degree as a condition of entry.

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)

A course, normally of one year duration, for people with a degree (or equivalent qualifications) to train to be teachers.

Post-1992 universities

Higher education institutions which acquired university status as a result of the provisions of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

Pre-1992 universities

Higher education institutions which had university status before the provisions of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 came into force; and the two Northern Ireland universities.

Price groups

Some subjects cost more to teach than others: some need laboratories and workshops while others are taught wholly in lecture theatres and seminar rooms. This is reflected in HEFCE's funding method for teaching, in which subjects are classified in four groups, A-D, according to how much they cost to teach.

Principal regulator

Principal regulators have the duty, as far as they reasonably can, to promote compliance with charity law by the exempt charities for which they are responsible. On 1 June 2010 HEFCE became principal regulator of most English HEIs.

Public benefit

All charities must deliver their charitable purposes 'for the public benefit'. The Charity Commission promotes understanding of public benefit generally, and HEFCE has published supplementary guidance for HEIs. 

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Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)

The QAA provides a quality assurance service for higher education institutions throughout the UK.

QR funding

Quality-related research funding. It is allocated according to research quality (as judged by expert review in the periodic Research Assessment Exercise), and the amount of research carried out.

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Registered charity

All charities with income above £5,000 must register with and are subject to the powers of the Charity Commission unless they have been classed as exempt charities. A small number of HEFCE-funded HEIs are registered charities.

Related body

A non-HEI/FEC body through which significant levels of HEFCE funding are distributed or activities promoted.

Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)

An exercise carried out periodically to determine the quality of research in UK HEIs. The results are used by the higher education funding bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to allocate QR funding. The next one is in 2008.

Research Councils

There are seven subject-specific Research Councils. They are funded by the Government to support research in their own establishments and to fund research projects in universities.

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Sandwich course

A course of study which includes periods of practical work in organisations outside the university or college.


See Bursaries

Sector Skills Councils

Sector Skills Councils are independent organisations developed by employers in industry. They are employer-led and involve trade unions and professional bodies. SSCs were set up by Government to tackle the skills and productivity needs of their sector throughout the UK.


A study period of up to 16 weeks, often with the last two weeks used as an assessment period.

Single conversation

A streamlined accountability process between HEFCE and institutions, linked to an assessment of institutional risk, which comprises an exchange of documents and dialogue during a specific period each year. This began in 2007, and in 2009 was renamed to 'the annual accountability returns exercise'.

Skills Funding Agency

The government agency responsible for funding and regulating adult further education and skills training in England.

Special funding, Special initiative

HEFCE funds that are provided for a fixed period and a specified purpose, unlike the Block grant. They may be distributed by formula or in response to competitive bids.

Specialist institution

A higher education institution that has 60 per cent or more of its courses in one or two subjects only, such as music or art colleges.

Student support

Financial help available from the Government to students in higher education.


The advanced fibre optic computer network linking universities and colleges in the UK. A development of JANET - the joint academic network. 

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TRAC for teaching (a national framework for costing teaching, based on TRAC principles)


Making an institution's processes visible and comprehensible to interested parties outside that institution, such as external examiners, quality control committees and the general public.

Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC)

A uniform approach to the costing of activities undertaken by all UK HEIs since 2002. 

Tuition fees

Students have to pay tuition fees to a university or college to attend a course there. The standard fee level is set by the Government, and is £1,175 per student per year for 2005-06. Home and EU students on full-time courses may be eligible for support towards these fees depending on their own and their family's income.

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Student working towards a first degree, foundation degree, higher education certificate or diploma or equivalent.

Under-represented groups

Groups that have participation rates significantly below the national average for the cohort under consideration. Examples of such groups may be:

  • people from low-income backgrounds
  • people from lower socio-economic groups
  • people from low participation neighbourhoods
  • certain minority ethnic groups
  • disabled people.

Unit of assessment (UOA)

The units used as subject categories for the Research Assessment Exercise. In the 1996 and 2001 RAEs 69 UOAs were used. For the 2008 RAE there are 67 UOAs.


Universities are diverse, ranging in size, mission and history. The Secretary of State has the power to grant university status to an institution. Former polytechnics were given the status of universities under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. These are sometimes called 'new' universities or post-1992 universities. The pre-1992 or 'old' universities include many founded in the 1950s and 1960s, the civic universities established in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which date from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Universities UK

An umbrella group representing the views and interests of the vice-chancellors and principals of universities and other higher education bodies in the UK. 

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The process by which a course is judged to have met the requirements for an award by the relevant degree-awarding body, or the relevant examining body, or by an accredited institution on behalf of that degree-awarding body.

Variable fees

From September 2006 universities and colleges will be able to charge new students fees above the standard level up to £3,000 a year, provided they have entered into an access agreement with the Office for Fair Access setting out how they will safeguard and promote fair access.Full-time students will be able to take out loans for fees which are only repaid when they have finished studying and are earning more than £15,000 a year. Institutions that do not enter into such an agreement will continue to charge the standard fee (see Tuition fees).

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Widening access, widening participation

This is when a funding council, institution or other organisation implements policies and engages in activities designed to ensure that all those with the potential to benefit from higher education have the opportunity to do so whatever their background and whenever they need it.

Work-based learning

Learning delivered by a university, college or other training provider in the workplace, normally under the supervision of a person from the same company as well as a professional teacher from outside the company.

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Young People's Learning Agency

The government agency responsible for supporting the delivery of training and education to all 16 – 19 year olds in England.

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