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Academic year

For HEFCE funding purposes, we define this as the period between 1 August of one year to 31 July of the next.

Access agreements

Agreements with the Office for Fair Access, in which each year universities and colleges set out their tuition fee limits and what they intend to do to ensure fair access for people from under-represented groups, such as financial support for students and outreach work such as summer schools. All universities and colleges which receive HEFCE grants must have an access agreement to be allowed to charge higher tuition fees.

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 obligation on universities, colleges and nominated individuals to explain how well they have met their responsibilities, including the proper use of public funds.

Accountability burden

The work that institutions must do to demonstrate that they are spending HEFCE funds appropriately. We strive to achieve a fair balance between minimising this burden and ensuring public money is properly accounted for.


Accreditation is any process of approval leading to assurance that a programme meets the standards required by a particular profession, or for statutory or regulatory purposes.

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 email 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.

Alternative provider

A general term for providers of higher education which are not funded by regular government grants. They can be for-profit or not-for-profit, and of any corporate form.

Annual accountability returns exercise

A streamlined accountability process between HEFCE and the institutions we fund, linked to an assessment of institutional risk, which comprises an exchange of documents and dialogue during a specific period each year.

Annual accounts direction

HEFCE publishes an annual accounts direction, which states HEFCE’s financial reporting requirements. HEIs which we fund and their external auditors must comply with it. The most recent accounts direction was published as HEFCE Circular letter 19/2016.


For HEFCE funding purposes, we define assurance as the processes and systems by which universities and colleges confirm that risks and opportunities are effectively managed and that their objectives, including compliance, are achieved. Some assurances are provided by independent sources.

Authority funded provider

A term used in the student support regulations for any provider of higher education that is directly funded with recurrent grant by either one of the four higher education funding bodies in the UK (these are: HEFCE, HEFCW, DELNI and the SFC) or the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland.

Awarding body

A body which may grant academic awards. Degree awarding bodies are a type of awarding body, but there are many others. Ofqual regulates a number of the UK awarding bodies which cannot grant degrees, although registering with Ofqual is voluntary. If an organisation acts as an awarding body, then it is responsible for the award it grants. This is a lesser commitment than acting as a validating body (see ‘Validation’).

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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 email, 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 the late 1990s education ministers in Europe 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 qualifications awarded by Pearson Education Ltd (Edexcel).


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

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Catalyst fund

Funding to promote and enhance innovative activities that address the Government’s key policy priorities, and to manage the transition to and through the new finance arrangements in higher education.

Collaborative arrangements

A general term for arrangements between two or more institutions or organisations for joint activity to provide higher education or research.


Relationships between HE providers and schools to encourage pupils to study at the HE provider.

Connected institution

This is a term from the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. It refers to any institution which HEFCE (or one of the other HE funding bodies in the UK) recognises as sufficiently connected to a funded higher education institution. This means that HEFCE can give the relevant higher education institution a direct grant which will then be passed to the connected institution. These connected institutions could range from the Oxford colleges to joint venture arrangements, like the Francis Crick Institute. Connected institutions are not generally considered to be 'authority funded' unless they receive grants directly from one of the higher education funding bodies. Connected institution arrangements are different from 'franchise arrangements'.

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.

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.


Depending on the context this means either corporate social responsibility or Comprehensive Spending Review. The Comprehensive Spending Review is a governmental process in the UK carried out by HM Treasury to set firm expenditure limits and, through public service agreements, define the key improvements that the public can expect from these resources.

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Degree awarding body

A degree awarding body has the right to issue UK degrees. In the past, degree awarding bodies have gained their powers in a variety of ways – through Royal Charter or Act of Parliament, for example. Today, degree awarding powers are all granted by Privy Council, and can be at three levels – foundation degree, taught, and research. For more information see the degree-awarding powers (DAP) and university title pages of

The UK Government recognises three sub-types of degree awarding body:

  • recognised bodies, which can award degrees in any subject in their own names
  • permitted bodies, which can award degrees themselves in any subject, but only under the name of the University of London
  • the nine UK recognised awarding bodies, which can only award specific degrees in specific subjects.

Degree course

A course of higher education leading to the award of a foundation, bachelors or masters degree.


Formerly the department of UK government responsible for higher education in Northern Ireland. It was renamed the Department for the Economy in May 2016.

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.

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 the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Designated course

In the context of student funding, this is a course that is designated for student support purposes under the student support regulations, allowing eligible students on such courses to access loans and grants from the Student Loans Company.

Designated institution

This is a technical term for an HE provider which has been designated by Parliamentary Order as eligible to be grant funded by one of the UK higher education funding bodies, as set out in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Designated institutions are a subset of higher education institutions, and the majority of them are now also universities.

Devolved administrations

This term refers to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


A qualification awarded for a course which may or may not be at higher education level.

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 owned by Pearson Education Ltd, providing a wide range of qualifications including some at higher education level.

Education Funding Agency

The Education Funding Agency is an executive agency of the Department of Education, which manages the funding for state-provided education for young people below the age of 19. It does not fund those schools which are maintained by local authorities.


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 since 2010 are age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.


Originally, ERASMUS was the European Union Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, a scheme in which students can spend time abroad as part of their study at a UK higher education institution. This was part of the EU's Lifelong Learning Programme from 2007 to 2013. The latter has been replaced by the Erasmus+ programme, the EU's new framework programme for education, training, youth and sport, which runs from 2014 to 2020.

Estate Management Statistics

The Estate Management Statistics Record (EMS) collection is administered via the Higher Education Statistics Agency. AUDE publishes the information in an annual report.

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. 

Exemptions list

The list, developed by HEFCE in consultation with the sector, of qualifications, grades and qualification aims which exempt a student from counting against an institution's student number control allocation. We agreed that the exemptions list should not apply to some specialist institutions in the performing and creative arts, which recruit primarily on the basis of audition or portfolio. 

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See Tuition fees.

Financial memorandum

The financial memorandum was the agreement between HEFCE and the institutions it funds that sets out the terms and conditions for payment of HEFCE grants. It was superseded in August 2014 by the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability.

Financial sustainability

The arrangements for ensuring and demonstrating the long term financial viability of universities and colleges.

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.


A franchise is an agreement by a lead HE provider (usually a degree awarding body) that another provider may deliver all or part of a programme approved and owned by the lead provider. The lead provider normally retains overall control of the programme's content, delivery, assessment and quality assurance arrangements, and has overall responsibility for the provision. Some franchise arrangements may also meet the definition of sub-contractual arrangements.


Full-time equivalent or full-time equivalence, depending on context. For comparison and funding purposes, numbers of sandwich year-out and part-time students and staff are converted to full-time equivalents. This is because a direct headcount 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.

Full-person equivalent (FPE)

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 or FPEs. This gives a more accurate measure than direct headcounts, where the student would have to be arbitrarily assigned to one of the teaching institutions and/or one of the subjects.

Funding agreement

The annual funding agreement between HEFCE and the institutions it funds sets out the recurrent grant allocated for the year, the circumstances under which that grant may be adjusted, and particular terms and conditions associated with it. These include, for example, any requirements relating to student numbers and to comply with regulated tuition fee limits and access agreements. For publicly funded higher education institutions, the funding agreement is part two of the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability.

Funding council

Funding councils for higher education are non-departmental public statutory bodies that provide government funding for teaching, research, knowledge exchange and related activities.

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 and Higher Education Act 1992 (1992 Act)

The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 gives HEFCE the statutory duty of distributing funding for teaching, research and related activities to higher education institutions, and for prescribed higher education courses to further education colleges; to secure arrangements for assessing the quality of education in institutions we fund; and to provide advice to the Secretary of State.

Further education

Further education is for people over compulsory school age (currently 16 in England) which does not take place in a secondary school. Further education courses are generally up to the standard of GCE A-level or NVQ Level 3.

Further education corporation

Further education corporations are created by Parliamentary statute, under the powers of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Most of them are general further education colleges or sixth-form colleges. The Association of Colleges publishes a list of these bodies. Most further education corporations in England receive funding from HEFCE because they are providing prescribed courses of higher education. Further education corporations may also apply to the Privy Council to gain foundation degree awarding powers in their own right, although that is quite rare.

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Governing body

The council, board of governors or other body ultimately responsible for the affairs of a provider. For HEIs, this will often contain a large number of 'lay members' who are not from within the higher education sector and give their time voluntarily.

Government Office for Science

The Government Office for Science (GO-Science) supports the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA). The key role of the GCSA and GO-Science is to ensure that all levels of government, including the Prime Minister and Cabinet, receive the best scientific advice possible, and to enable the many science-using departments across government to create policies that are supported by strong evidence and robust arguments. 


Someone who has attained a bachelors or higher degree.

Grant letter

Depending on context, this refers either to the annual grant letter which the Secretary of State sends to HEFCE that sets out the Government's resources and priorities for higher education, or the annual grant letters which HEFCE sends to the institutions it funds setting out their recurrent funding for the year.


A representative body for higher education in the UK.

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HE provider

On the HEFCE website, the broad term 'HE provider' or 'higher education provider' usually refers to any organisation that delivers higher education.

HE system

The HE system refers to the entirety of higher education in England: the higher education providers, students, regulatory and sector bodies, and Government (including government agencies).


The Higher Education in Alternative Providers Early Statistics survey is an annual survey of student numbers starting designated full-time courses at some alternative providers of higher education.


Higher Education Funding Council for England.

HEFCE register

An online directory which includes all higher education providers which are regulated in England because they fulfil one or more of these criteria:

  • are a university, higher education corporation, or have been designated by statutory instrument for HEFCE funding
  • have the power to award degrees
  • are directly funded by HEFCE in the current academic year
  • deliver courses that have been specifically designated by Government to enable eligible students on these courses to access student support
  • are a publicly funded further education or sixth form college that delivers higher education courses on behalf of a HEFCE-funded provider (known as ‘franchise provision’)

HEFCE-fundable students

Students who may be counted within HEFCE funding calculations. For teaching funding, this broadly means all higher education students domiciled in the UK or another EU country (‘home and EU’ students) other than:

  • those whose place is expected to be the funding responsibility of another EU public source
  • those on a course that is not open to any suitably qualified candidate
  • students aiming for an ELQ (with some exceptions)
  • postgraduate research students.

The term encompasses some students who may not in fact attract HEFCE funding to their providers, for example where we expect tuition fees to cover the full cost of provision, or where students do not complete their year of study and are therefore not counted in our funding calculations. Further information about this definition is available from our annual HESES and HEIFES publications.


See higher education institution.

High-grades policy

HEFCE’s term for the government policy that exempts from the student number control students who achieve particular grades (currently ABB and above) at A-level (or certain equivalent qualifications).

Higher degree

Degree above bachelors level such as masters 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 sub-degree courses such as those leading to HNCs or HNDs.

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 Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund (TQEF) National Co-ordination Team.

Higher education corporation

Higher education corporation status can only be granted by Parliamentary Order. These providers were all further education corporations or part of local authorities, but have since moved into the higher education sector. The large majority are now also UK universities. Higher education corporations are all higher education institutions, although not all of them choose to apply to be authority funded.

Higher education funding bodies

These are the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland (DELNI) and Scottish Funding Council.

Higher Education in Further Education: Students Survey (HEIFES)

HEIFES 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 education institution

Higher education institution (HEI) is a term from the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. According to the Act, it means any provider which is one or more of the following: a UK university; a higher education corporation; a designated institution. HEFCE may choose to fund higher education institutions for teaching and research if they meet the conditions of grant. Higher education institutions are also required to subscribe to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

Higher education sector/HE sector

The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 has a technical definition of this term, which is quite restrictive and refers to higher education institutions which are authority funded. HEFCE often uses this term to refer to HE providers which we fund. For a more general term, see 'HE system'.

Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)

HESA collects, analyses and reports on HE statistics for universities and colleges in the UK.

Higher Education Students Early Statistics Survey (HESES)

HESES is HEFCE's main annual survey of students on recognised higher education courses at HEIs. It informs HEFCE's funding for teaching.

Higher Education White Paper

The Government White Paper 'Higher education: students at the heart of the system' was published in 2011 as a consultation. It set out proposals for the reform of higher education in England. The reforms are designed to improve financial sustainability, and to deliver higher education that is more responsive to student choice, provides a better student experience and helps improve social mobility.

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 bachelors degree with honours, covering greater depth than a general or ordinary BA or BSc degree.

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Information and communication technologies (ICT)

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

Improving retention

Improving retention refers to the work undertaken by higher education providers to support students to complete their studies, and to lower the number of students who leave higher education before finishing their course. Some people need more support than others to complete their studies because of their background or circumstances. Part of HEFCE’s student opportunity funding is provided to institutions to recognise the additional cost of this support.

Initial teacher training leading to qualified teacher status (ITT)

ITT is a course that leads to the recommendation of qualified teacher status (QTS), enabling an individual to teach in maintained primary, secondary and special schools and in non-maintained special schools. ITT courses are accredited by the National College of Teaching and Leadership, an executive agency of the Department for Education, and delivered by a range of providers including universities and School Centered Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) providers. The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) is the awarding body for QTS.


A general term commonly used to refer to publicly funded higher education providers, and sometimes to HE providers in a more general sense.

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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Janet – the joint academic network – is the high-speed computer network for the academic community in the UK. All further and higher education organisations in the UK are connected to the Janet network, as are all the Research Councils.


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

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Knowledge exchange

This refers to HEIs’ engagement with businesses, public and third sector services, the community and wider public. It includes the transferring or exchanging of knowledge with the aim of delivering external impact, such as improving products, services and profitability. This is linked with research and teaching, and includes consultancy and advisory work, the creation of intellectual property, the development of academic and student entrepreneurship, and a variety of other activities.

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Leadership Foundation for Higher Education

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

Learning and Skills Council (LSC)

Until 2010, the Learning and Skills Council was responsible for funding and planning education and training for over 16 year-olds in England. It was succeeded by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA). In 2012 the responsibilities of the YPLA were transferred to the Education Funding Agency (EFA).


Level of study refers to undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG). It may also be used to refer to sub-categories of these, such as sub-degree provision, or postgraduate taught and postgraduate research activity.

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 HEFCE initiative funded between 2004 and 2012 to improve progression into and through higher education.



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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. Some old Scottish universities award MAs instead of bachelors degrees.

Mature students

Mature students are students who are 21 or over when they start their course.

Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability

An agreement between HEFCE and higher education institutions it funds that sets out the terms and conditions for payment of HEFCE grants. It took effect from 1 August 2014, replacing the financial memorandum. HEFCE does not have a Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability with the further education colleges it funds. However, relevant paragraphs from the memorandum with higher education institutions are included in the funding agreement with further education colleges.


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

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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National Student Survey

The National Student Survey gathers opinions on the quality of students' HE courses every year. Its purpose is to contribute to public accountability and help inform the choices of prospective students. The results of the National Student Survey are available on the Unistats website.

New-regime students

Students who are treated as having started their courses on or after 1 September 2012 and who are subject to the new fee and funding regime. They include those whose fees are limited by law and those, such as most postgraduates, whose fees are not limited in this way.

Non-continuation rate

The proportion of students who do not continue, usually from their first year, to their next year of study and have not qualified with an HE qualification.

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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 was the department of UK government with responsibility for science, engineering and technology and their uses to benefit society and the economy. It was dissolved in 2007 and its functions are now carried out by the Government Office for Science. 

Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA)

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator is an independent body set up to review student complaints against higher education institutions in England and Wales.


The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) regulates many qualifications, examinations and assessments in England and vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland, except for degrees. It sets the standards and rules that awarding organisations need to meet when they design, deliver and award regulated qualifications.


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.

Old-regime students

Students who are treated as having started their courses before 1 September 2012 and are subject to the previous fee and funding regime. They include both those whose fees are limited by law (mostly full-time undergraduates in 2011-12) and those whose fees are not limited in this way (such as most postgraduates and, in 2011-12, part-time undergraduates).

Operating Framework

The Operating Framework explains how higher education providers in England are held to account and regulated.  

Ordinary degree

A bachelors degree awarded without honours (see Honours degree above).

Overseas students

In broad terms, overseas students are those from outside the European Union, but certain students from other countries such as Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland may also fall outside the definition of overseas students.

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Performance indicators

A set of indicators produced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (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.

Prescribed courses of higher education

The Further and Higher Education Act (1992) specifies that HEFCE can only fund 'prescribed' courses of higher education in further education corporations. The definition of these courses is given in parliamentary regulations. The definition currently covers Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, foundation, bachelors and postgraduate degrees, among others. The course must be awarded by a UK provider with degree awarding powers, or by Pearson Education Ltd or the Scottish Qualifications Agency, in the case of Higher Nationals.

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 in five groups, A, B, C1, C2 and 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.

Privy Council

The Privy Council is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the UK. Its members are mostly senior figures who are (or have been) members of the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs)

PSRBs are a diverse group of professional and employer bodies, regulators and those with statutory authority over a profession or group of professionals.

Protected groups

Groups identified in the Equality Act 2010 as sharing a particular characteristic against which it is illegal to discriminate. These groups are as follows:
• age
• disability
• gender reassignment
• marriage and civil partnership
• pregnancy and maternity
• race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
• religion and belief
• sex
• sexual orientation.


On the HEFCE website, the broad term 'higher education provider', 'HE provider' or 'provider' usually refers to any organisation that delivers higher education.

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. 

Publicly funded provider

HEFCE typically uses this term to mean the opposite of 'alternative provider'; in other words, any provider of higher education which also receives direct, recurrent public funding for any purpose. It covers a wide range of bodies. Authority-funded providers are a subset of publicly funded providers.

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QR funding

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

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)

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

Quality Code

The UK Quality Code for Higher Education sets out the formal expectations that all UK higher education providers reviewed by QAA are required to meet.


A quintile is any one of five equal groups into which a population has been divided according to the distribution of values of a particular variable.

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RAB charge

The Resource Accounting and Budgeting (RAB) charge is the estimated cost to Government of borrowing to support the student finance system. It is based on future loan write-offs and interest subsidies in net present value terms. For convenience, these costs are expressed as a proportion of the initial loan outlay.

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 higher education institutions are registered charities.

Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)

An assessment that was carried out periodically to determine the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. The results were used by the higher education funding bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to allocate QR funding. The last one was in 2008. The RAE has been superseded by the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

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.

Research Excellence Framework (REF)

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is an assessment that is carried out periodically to determine the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. The results are used by the higher education funding bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to allocate research funding. The REF replaced the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and the outcomes of the first REF were completed in December 2014. 

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Sandwich course

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


See Bursaries.

School-centred initial teacher training (SCITT)

School-centred initial teacher training programmes are designed and delivered by groups of providers, often neighbouring schools and colleges. All SCITT courses lead to the recommendation of qualified teacher status (QTS). See also 'Initial teacher training'.

Sector Skills Councils

Sector Skills Councils are independent organisations developed by employers in industry. They are employer-led and involve trades unions and professional bodies. Sector Skills Councils 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.

Skills Funding Agency

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

Special funding, Special initiative

These are 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. We now refer to special funding as funding for national facilities and initiatives.

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.

Specifically designated courses

HEFCE uses the term 'specifically designated courses' to refer to courses which are designated on an individual, case-by-case basis by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) as eligible for provision under the student support regulations. This approval process generally applies where courses are offered by, or in collaboration with, alternative providers. If designated, eligible students on these courses can apply to Student Finance England for student support funding. The criteria which BIS normally uses to determine whether to designate a course include academic quality, financial sustainability and governance. In most cases, HEFCE supports BIS in administering these checks.

Statutory body

A body established or recognised by legislation.

Statutory Instrument

A form of legislation which allow the provisions of an Act of Parliament to be subsequently brought into force or altered without Parliament having to pass a new Act. They are also referred to as secondary, delegated or subordinate legislation.

Student number control allocation

Student number controls continue to operate in the alternative provider sector. Student number control mechanisms allow the Department for Education (DfE) to control the number of students that can access undergraduate support. Institutions will be awarded separate student number controls for their full-time programmes and for their part-time or distance-learning programmes.

There are two types of student number control mechanism:

  • The student number control (SNC) - this limits the number of students who are eligible for student support that a provider admits each year. Any student who is eligible for student support, irrespective of whether they claim support, counts against the SNC. 
  • The student number allowance (SNA) - this restricts the total number of home and EU students who claim support at an individual provider to 50 across all courses and all years. Only those students that claim support count against the SNA.

Alternative providers with UK degree awarding powers are not subject to the student number control mechanisms.

Alternative providers located entirely outside England are subject to an SNA of 50, against which only English students count. These providers may increase their SNA to 100, should they require it.

More information about SNCs for alternative providers

Student opportunity

This refers to activities such as widening access and improving participation, designed to ensure that all those with the potential to benefit from higher education have the opportunity to do so.

Student support

Financial support for higher education students' tuition fees and living costs, provided by the Government in the form of grants and loans.

Student support regulations

Regulations made and updated annually through statutory instruments under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 Act, which set down the conditions under which student support funding will be provided by Government for students taking designated higher education courses during the forthcoming academic year.

Sub-contractual arrangements   

HEFCE defines sub-contractual arrangements as instances where a course is made available by one institution (the lead provider) with some or all of the teaching provided by a different institution under a sub-contractual arrangement. The course will usually have been designed by the lead provider, which will usually impose its own teaching and assessment requirements. The lead provider has full contractual responsibility to the student for the provision of education, even though its staff are not teaching (all of) the course. Usually, the lead provider will also be the awarding body for the course qualification, but exceptionally this may be a third party. (See also ‘Franchise’.)

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Tier 4

Highly Trusted Sponsor status from the Home Office. Higher education providers need this approval in order to enrol overseas students.


TRAC for teaching, a national framework for costing teaching, based on Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) principles.


Making processes visible and comprehensible to interested parties, 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. Universities and colleges are responsible for setting tuition fees for some categories of student (mostly undergraduates), although they are subject to certain limits set by the Government. Most EU students (including UK students) are eligible for tuition fee loans which will cover the cost of these fees, and which do not need to be repaid until after the student has graduated. Some charges made by institutions are not treated as tuition fees. These include charges for accommodation.

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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.


Unistats is the official website for comparing UK higher education course data, including data on each course and National Student Survey scores.

Unit of assessment (UOA)

Units used as subject categories for the Research Assessment Exercise and its successor the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The number and boundaries of UOAs differ between the two.


UK universities are diverse, ranging in size, mission and history. Nowadays, the Privy Council and Companies House have the power to grant use of the title 'university' to an institution, on the advice of BIS. There are certain prerequisites, including the need to have degree awarding powers. Universities are all higher education institutions, although not all of them choose to apply to be authority funded. 

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. 

University college

'University college' is a protected term, and may only be used by certain providers. Today, gaining university college title is a process similar to that for gaining university title, but it does not require a provider to have as many students.

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In the higher education context, a validation relationship occurs when a degree-awarding provider assesses a course delivered by another provider and approves it as being of an appropriate standard and quality to contribute, or lead, to one of the degree awarding provider’s awards. Students normally have a direct contractual relationship with the provider delivering the course, not the institution that validated it.

Variable fees

From September 2006 universities and colleges have been able to charge eligible students fees either up to a 'basic amount' or, if they have entered into an access agreement with the Office for Fair Access setting out how they will safeguard and promote fair access, up to a 'higher amount'. These overall fee limits were increased from September 2012 and, for full-time undergraduates, the basic amount is now generally £6,000 and the higher amount £9,000. Eligible students are able to take out loans for fees which are only repaid when they have finished studying and are earning above a certain threshold level.

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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.

Widening participation strategic assessment (WPSA)

Assessments that institutions submitted to HEFCE between 2009-10 and 2011-12 to show how widening participation is embedded in institutional missions and policies. The submission of a WPSA was a condition for the continued receipt of funds for widening participation, and institutions were expected to report annually on the progress made against milestones and targets set out in their WPSA.

Widening participation strategic statement (WPSS)

Widening participation strategic statements superseded WPSAs. In April 2012, HEFCE requested all HEIs and FECs with over 100 full-time equivalent directly HEFCE-fundable student numbers in 2012-13 to submit an interim WPSS. This interim document was requested to understand how institutions will respond to the changing higher education environment and to understand how institutional widening participation strategies are adapted or re-shaped as a consequence of the funding reforms taking effect in 2012-13.

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 (YPLA)

A government agency set up in 2010 with responsibility for supporting the delivery of training and education to 16–19 year olds in England. In 2012 the responsibilities of the YPLA were transferred to the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

Young students

Young students are students who are under 21 years old when they start their course.

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