Jargon Buster

The worlds of learning, education, careers and work are full of terminology, abbreviations, phrases and words that can be difficult to decipher.

Below you’ll find some examples of commonly used ones that you’ll see on this and other websites, with a clear explanation of what they mean. If you come across any others you think that we should include in our Jargon Buster, please let us know by emailing here.

A to C

A level: The General Certificate of Education Advanced Level is an academic qualification taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by students studying at a school sixth form or college after completing their GCSEs.

Alumni: A graduate of a university

Adjustment: A service available from A-level results day for students who have gained higher results than expected and would like to change the institution or course they want to apply to.

Applicant number or UCAS ID: A 10-digit number you are assigned when you register with UCAS’ application service.

Apprenticeship: This paid position offers you the chance to earn while you learn a craft or trade. It combines hands-on work experience with the opportunity to study at college, university or a training provider (about 20 per cent of the time). Apprenticeships can run from 12 months up to six years and provide a recognised qualification.

AS level (Advanced Subsidiary level): This is the first part of a full A-level qualification, which can stand alone as a post-16 qualification (taking one year to complete), or be carried over to the next year to complete the full A level.

Bachelor’s degree:
A type of undergraduate degree that usually requires three or four years of full-time study to complete. Degrees include Bachelor of Arts (BA) awarded to those studying arts and humanities and some social sciences; Bachelor of Science (BSc); Bachelor of Engineering; and LLB Bachelor of Laws, an accreditation given to Law degrees which enables progression onto further training to become a barrister or solicitor.

BMAT: The Biomedical Admissions Test, a form of medical admissions test required by certain universities.

BTEC or Business and Technology Education Council: Vocational qualifications that equip students with theoretical and practical knowledge in a range of subjects. 

Bursary: A non-repayable monetary award made to students who satisfy certain criteria as set by the awarding universities and colleges.

Campus: A building or collection of university buildings in which most university activity and teaching takes place.

CertHE and DipHE: These are levels within a degree course. A CertHE (Certificate of Higher Education) is equal to one year of full-time study and a DipHE (Diploma in Higher Education) is equal to two years. Often awarded if you leave a degree course early, both can also be taken as standalone qualifications.

Clearing: A service that opens on exam results day each year whereby those students without a place at a higher education institution can gain a place on courses with spaces still available. 

Combined or Joint Honours: A degree in which students study two subjects equally, for example, a BA (Hons) in English Language and Linguistics.

Conditional offer: An offer of a place on a university or college course, subject to certain conditions such as achieving certain exam results.

CPD: Stands for Continuing Professional Development and describes the learning activities employees engage in to develop and enhance their abilities.

Credits: HE courses are made up of modules and each module is worth a certain number of credits.

D to F

Deferral: In your application to a degree course, this is what to do if you’d like to carry an offer over to start it in the following academic year.

Degree: A qualification achieved at university or college.

Degree apprenticeships: An alternative route into higher education, combining full-time work for an organisation with part-time university-level study, where students can achieve a full Bachelor’s or Masters degree.

DfE: Department for Education

DipHE: See CertHE

Disabled Student Allowances or DSAs: Monetary awards made to students with a disability or long-term health condition who may need additional support throughout their studies to pay for specialist equipment and support. These awards are assessed on a case by case basis. 

EAL: Stands for English as an Additional Language and refers to students’ whose first language isn’t English and may not speak English fluently and so require language support to learn.

English Baccalaureate or EBacc: This is a performance measure, not a qualification and is not to be confused with the International Baccalaureate. The EBacc measure shows where pupils have secured a C grade or above across a core of academic subjects at Key Stage 4 and enables parents and pupils to see how their school is performing.

EBD: Children who display emotional and behavioural difficulties may be placed on the Special Needs Register and given extra support with their learning.

EHCP: Students who are issued with an Education Health and Care Plan have serious special educational needs and will receive extra assistance in their learning which is reviewed annually.

Employability skills: The skills, experience and attributes a person has that makes them more attractive to employers.

Entry requirements: The qualifications and specific subjects or grades the course provider recommends you need to have to get on the course. You aren't guaranteed an offer even if you meet or already have these.

Estranged Learner: Estranged students are young people studying without the support of a family network.

EYFS: Early Years Foundation Stage sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to five years old. All schools and Ofsted-registered early years’ providers, including childminders, preschools, nurseries and school reception classes, must follow the EYFS.

Fee waivers:
These reduce tuition fees, either on their own, or in a broader package of support with a bursary. Each individual university decides who can receive a waiver, and how much, based a student’s applications.

Firm choice: The preferred university a student will attend if they meet the conditions of their offer. An applicant can make one firm choice from their initial (up to) five choices.

Fixed-term contract: A contract of employment that ends on an agreed date

Foundation degree: A work-related qualification designed together with employers that normally lasts two years full-time. You can progress from a foundation degree to an Honours degree at university or college in the same subject.

Fresher: The informal term given to first year students at university.

Further education (FE): Refers to qualifications taken post-16 and GCSE in school sixth form or college before starting higher education (see higher education).

Full-time: In most workplaces, full-time work means either 30 to 40-plus hours per week; anything less is considered part-time employment.

G to I

Gap year: Students may opt to take a year out of their studies before beginning a higher education course. This year can be used to work, travel, volunteer or a mixture of the three!

GCSE: General Certificate of Secondary Education qualifications are taken in Years 10 and 11 when students are aged between 14 and 16.

Graduation: A graduation ceremony is when  students receive their official higher education awards.

Graduate schemes: Usually lasting no more than two years, these schemes are like an entry-level job that doubles as a training programme. They are designed to introduce graduates to multiple areas of the company and build up their experience and knowledge. They are in many ways like a normal job in that you’re paid a full-time wage and should receive some (if not all) workplace benefits.

Grievance: A formal complaint that usually stems from an employee feeling they have been negatively affected by their employer not holding up or misapplying the terms of the employment contract

Gross misconduct: Blatant misbehaviour at work such as assault, stealing, bullying or harassment.

Gross pay: Your earnings before deductions like National Insurance and tax.

Hard skills: Skills and abilities that can be taught and quantified, for the most part, such as coding or foreign language skills. Soft skills, such as dependability and team-working, are more difficult to evaluate and are usually learned throughout life. 

Hardship funds: Extra money available from universities for students who are struggling financially.

Higher education (HE): This usually refers to the qualifications that are taken at level 4 or above, that is, taken after A Levels or equivalents. This includes university degrees, higher apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships. This qualification can be studied at university or college.

Higher National Certificate (HNC): A vocationally focused HE qualification, usually taking one year to complete, and roughly equivalent to one year of university study.

Higher National Diploma (HND): A vocationally focused HE qualification considered equivalent to the second year of a three-year degree course that can often be used to gain entry to a university course.

Honours degrees: Undergraduate programmes which include a dissertation or research project in the final year.

Humanities: A term typically covering ‘arts’ subjects such as history, literature, Classics, theology film, modern languages and drama.

IEP: An Individual Education Plan identifies a child’s special educational needs and outlines goals and strategies to support their learning.

Insurance choice: A student’s second choice of higher education institution, usually with slightly lower entry requirements. This is the institution and course a student will attend if they don’t meet the terms of their Firm or first choice. 

Internship: This is an unpaid post that allows you to gain practical experience in a profession or organisation. This work usually lasts for eight to 12 weeks, during students' holidays. These posts are sometimes offered to students studying a relevant subject.

International Baccalaureate: An organisation that provides programmes of study throughout the world including a diploma course for 16 to 19 year-old pupils that is challenging, internationally recognised  and well respected by universities. Students complete assessment tasks in school and take written exams at the end of the programme.

K to L

Job sharing: When two people share the same position on a part-time or reduced-time basis and together perform a job that's normally carried out by one person full-time.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): These are used to evaluate the success and efficiency of a team or employee by looking at whether they have achieved their targets.

Key Stages (KS): The national curriculum is organised into blocks of years called ‘key stages’. These refer to the sets of skills and knowledge a student aims to develop at a certain stage in their education.

Key Stage 3 = school years 7-9 /age 11 to 14
Key Stage 4 = school years 10-11/age 14 to 16
Key Stage 5 = school years 12-13/age 16 to 18.

Lay off: When you are let go from your job temporarily as your employer has no work for you.

LEA: Stands for Local Education Authority  – the local government authority with responsibility for education.


  • Adoptive leave: Paid time off work after the adoption of a child for one parent of the adoptive couple, or a parent adopting alone.
  • Annual leave: The number of days off/holidays an employee is permitted to be away from their work within a year, as part of their employment contract. These are usually paid days off that you need to book at least a couple of weeks in advance and have authorised by your manager.
  • Carer’s leave: Paid time off work to care for someone deemed by the Department of Social Security as being in need of full-time care.
  • Force majeure leave: Leave from work for urgent reasons such as illness or injury of a family member – this can be paid or unpaid depending on the circumstances and the company.
  • Maternity leave: Time off work for a person who is pregnant or has just given birth.
  • Parental leave: Time off work for paternity, maternity, caring and other related parental circumstances. It can be paid or unpaid depending on the company and the circumstances.
  • Paternity leave: Leave from work for the non-pregnant parent following the birth or adoption of a child.

League tables: A list of university and college course providers that can be ranked by an overall score, by results, reputation, courses or other criteria.

LAC or Looked after Children: These are children in care or looked after by foster parents. LACs have the highest status for admissions and provisions in schools.


M to O

Master’s degree: Also known as a Master of Arts or MA, this degree is typically taken after completing an undergraduate degree. MAs include Master of Arts, Master of Business Administration, Master of Engineering and Master of Science.

Maintenance grant: Extra financial help (that doesn’t have to be repaid) provided by the government for students from households with lower incomes.

Minimum wage: The minimum hourly rate of pay that most employees have a legal right to. This varies depending on the age of the employee. For more information, visit gov.uk.

Module: A unit of assessed learning on a particular topic with coherent aims and learning outcomes. Many programmes are divided into modules with a certain number of modules required to study the course to completion.

National insurance: A deduction from your pay (paid by every employee) that goes towards supporting benefits for those not in employment and to fund the NHS.

NEET: This  term is used to refer to a person who is ‘not in education, employment or training’.

Net pay: The amount of pay you will receive after deductions such as tax, National Insurance and any pension contributions.

Notice: An announcement by the employee or employer that the employment contract will end on a certain date.

NQTs: Newly qualified teachers.

Offer: An official offer of a place on a course at university. It can be conditional, usually that is based on attaining certain exam grades, or unconditional which isn’t reliant on exam results.

Ofsted: The Office for Standards in Education inspects schools regularly and publishes its findings

On-boarding: A process through which new recruits are welcomed into the business, and learn about the company and any other information they need to do their job well.

Open-ended contract: Also known as ‘a contract of indefinite duration’ or permanent job, this is a contract that continues until the employer or employee ends it.

OTE (On Target Earnings): Normally used to describe a job that earns a commission, for example, sales. OTE suggests what could be earned if employees meet sales targets and is not typically a guaranteed salary.

Oxbridge: The informal name for both Oxford and Cambridge universities

P to R

PA/per annum: The money you could earn each year, for example, £20,000pa or per annum.

PAYE (Pay As You Earn): The system where tax is deducted from your wages by your employer and sent to the Revenue Commissioners.

Pension: An allowance for those who are retired and are no longer in employment. Your employer will usually inform you about the pension scheme at your workplace and you can decide whether to opt in or out of contributing to it. Contributions are a small percentage of your salary that gets deducted each month. Your employer will usually contribute a percentage into (or top up) your pension each month. 

Permanent employee: These employees work for an employer who pays them directly and they don’t have a predetermined end date to their employment. In addition to their wages, they often receive benefits such as subsidised healthcare, paid holidays, sick pay and pension contributions.

Personal specification: A profile of the ideal candidate for a position that describes the key skills and experience needed to do the job.

Personal statement: Part of the UCAS application, this 4,000 character statement is written by students to explain why they are applying for specific courses and would be a suitable candidate for that course.

PhD: Also known as a doctorate, this is the highest form of degree awarded. It involves a lot of research and minimal teaching. You need to have completed at least an undergraduate degree to study at this level.

Placement: A period of unpaid work experience within a company or organisation related to your course, usually undertaken between year two and three. Placements are usually optional but are compulsory for some courses.

Point of entry: The year of the course you start in – for example ‘2’ means you’d start in the second year of the course.

Postgraduate degree: Higher education courses such as a Masters or PhD for graduates who have already completed an undergraduate course.

PPE: Personal Protective Equipment such as safety boots and helmets that may be needed for certain jobs. 

PPS: Your Personal Public Service number is your unique reference number for all dealings with government departments and other public bodies such as the Revenue Commissioners.

Predicted grades: The grades that a teacher, tutor, or other adviser believe a student will achieve when they complete their secondary qualification.

Progress 8 score: This is the average of all pupils' individual Progress 8 scores, which takes into account their best eight GCSE results as well as the educational level at which they entered the school. Maths and English results are now graded 9 to 1 whereas other subjects are still graded under the old system of A* to G.

PRSA: Personal Retirement Savings Accounts is a long-term, flexible personal pension plan. You can change employer and continue to use the same PRSA and switch from one PRSA to another at any time, free of charge.

Probationary period: A period of time set by the employer (typically three to 12 months) at the start of a job when you may not get all the employee benefits, pension or holidays etc. During this period, you should have regular meetings with your manager to discuss how you are getting on. If your employer can show you are unable to do the work to the required standard, they may extend your probationary period or, as an extreme, end your employment.

Pro rata: Employers use this term when suggesting the salary for a job that’s not full time. For example, a job may be advertised as £20,000 pa, pro rata 20 hours, which would pay £10,000pa.


This is when your job ceases to exist because of lack of work or your company closing down.

Resumé: An employment document, created by a jobseeker, giving details of their work history, academic achievements, skills and any other relevant information. Less extensive and comprehensive than a CV.

Russell Group universities: These leading UK universities are committed to carrying out the very best research, and have a reputation for offering an outstanding teaching and learning experience. They are usually spotted near the top of the university league tables. For more details, click here.

S to U

Sandwich course: A degree course that includes a year out of university for an industrial placement.

Scholarships: A financial award made by universities and colleges to students based on a range of criteria such as household income, and academic, sporting or musical achievement. The money doesn’t have to be repaid, and scholarships are specific to each institution.

Self-starter: An independent, proactive person comfortable with managing their own workload without a lot of instruction.

Shortlisting: The process employers undergo to identify from among the applicants those candidates who best meet the personal specification for a job. Those shortlisted are generally invited for an interview: those not shortlisted are typically rejected from the recruitment process.

Short time: When your pay or hours are reduced to less than half your normal weekly amount because there is less work to be done.

Student Finance England (SFE): The central funding body that manage applications for maintenance and tuition fee loans across England and assesses the need for financial support

Student loan: A loan made by the Student Loans Company (SLC) to cover your fees and living expenses while studying. Unlike a grant, it has to be repaid back only once you are in work and earning over a certain amount. The SLC manages your repayments once you’ve graduated.

Transferable skills: ‘Portable’ professional and social skills, such as problem-solving, good communication and adaptability, that can be used in any job and are valued by employers but are also useful outside of work.

TUPE: Stands for Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, which protects employees if the business that employs them changes hands or merges with another firm. Its effect is to move employees and any liabilities associated with them from the old employer to the new one.

Termination: When either you or your employer decide to end your employment, the correct period of notice (typically one week, one month or between three and 12 months for senior roles) must be given as stated in your employment contract of employment. Notice must be given in writing, and the employer normally retains the right to ask you to leave immediately, in which case they will pay salary in lieu of notice (that is, without you having to work).

Terms of employment: These terms, which may also be referred to as conditions of employment, generally include details of job responsibilities, work hours, dress code, time and starting salary. They may also include benefits such as health insurance, life insurance and pension plans.

Tuition fees: These are charged by universities and colleges to cover key elements of  your course and academic life, as well as core services related to students’ wellbeing and experience on campus.

UCAS: The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, a central organisation that administers applications for entry into full-time higher education courses across the UK. The application process (including choices and personal statements) is all done online via www.ucas.com

UCAS Extra: An additional period of time to apply for courses through UCAS when someone has not applied during the main UCAS application period or has received no offers of a place. 

(UCAS) Track: An online system that allows applicants to check the status of their application..

Unconditional offer: An offer of a place on a course given to a student who has satisfied all entry requirements.

Undergraduate degree: Also called a ‘Bachelor’s degree, this university- or college-based course normally lasts three or four years, and is usually available to those who have completed A Levels, BTECs or equivalent.

Undergraduate Masters: Four-year degrees such as Master of Engineering (MEng) and Master of Science (MSci) which comprise three years of undergraduate-level study and a further year to gain a Masters qualification.

Unfair dismissal: When an employer terminates an employee’s contract without a fair reason to do so. The employee can also claim unfair dismissal if the employer had a fair reason but handled the dismissal using a wrong procedure. 

V to Z

Vocational qualifications: These qualifications are directly related to work, prepare learners for particular occupations or trades and may involve a substantial element of work-experience. BTEC and City & Guilds courses are the most common, taking in everything from apprenticeships and NVQs (more hands-on), to certificates and diplomas (more classroom-based).

Vocational learning:  Vocational learning is training directly related to work or employment. Vocational courses.

WFH: Working from home.

White-collar: Mid- to high-level jobs where employees work in an office environment.

Widening Participation: Part of the government’s agenda to increase the diversity of the student population and encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t traditionally aspire to, consider or attend higher education, to go onto higher education.

Work experience: This can be paid or unpaid and refers to spent working with an employer in their workplace. It is often included as part of government-funded training schemes, as a way of developing your work, hands-on and vocational skills.

Working hours: For most employees, the legal maximum average working week is 48 hours.



Zero-hours contract: A type of employment contract where employees make themselves available for work for a specified number of hours and get paid for a proportion of those hours even if not required to work.