The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

UK Higher Education | Glossary of Terms

This page contains a list of terms, frameworks and organisations that are important in the UK higher education sector.

Quality Assurance and Compliance

Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)

The independent body entrusted with monitoring, and advising on, standards and quality in UK higher education. The QAA develops guidance that is accepted by all involved in the HE sector, and review higher education providers to check whether they meet agreed UK expectations.

QAA Subject Benchmark Statements

Subject Benchmark Statements set out expectations about standards of degrees. They describe what gives a discipline its coherence and identity, and define what can be expected of a graduate in terms of the abilities and skills needed to develop understanding or competence in the subject. It is usual for universities to refer to the QAAB SBS as part of their quality monitoring.

Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)

The CMA promotes competition for the benefit of consumers, both within and outside the UK. Within the HE sector, universities are now bound by consumer protection laws and the services they provide must match any marketing materials such as prospectuses, university websites and course documents, e.g. programme outlines.

Office for Students

The OfS is a public body established in 2017 to promote the student interest and value for money in UK HE.

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

HEFCE was the body responsible for funding and regulating universities and colleges in England. In March 2018 it was replaced by the Office for Students (OfS). Its equivalents are the Scottish Funding Council, the Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland) and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.

External examiners

It is a requirement for all degree level examinations at British universities that at least one member of the examining board should be from a university other than the one awarding the degree. External examiners ensure that standards are kept the same across universities, and provide an assurance of fair play. They normally attend exam boards and scrutinise a sample of exam papers.

National Student Survey (NSS)

A survey of 3rd year students across the UK to gather feedback on their HE experience, including courses, support, facilities and university life. The NSS results feed into university league tables. This annual survey started in 2005 and is run by the UK funding councils (HEFCE, HEFCW, DfENI and SFC).

United Kingdom Engagement Survey (UKES)

The UKES provides information on the amount of time and effort students invest in their studies. Typically first or second year students are surveyed for the UKES. The survey is run by the Higher Education Academy and has been running since 2013.

Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES)

International survey of postgraduate research students about their learning and supervision experience. This is a biennial survey run by the Higher Education Academy that started in 2007.

Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey (DLHE)

The DLHE survey collects information on what all leavers from higher education programmes are doing six months after qualifying from their course. This annual survey has been run by HEFCE since 2002.

Research Excellence Framework (REF)

The REF is a system of assessing the quality of research in UK HE institutions and to inform the selective allocation of grants for research to institutions. The REF also provides benchmarking information within the HE sector. The last REF was in 2014, the next will take place in 2021.

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is run by the Office for Students and is now a mandatory quality assurance check on undergraduate education in the UK (excluding Scotland). It aims to provide students with the information they need to judge teaching quality. It is based on 9 metrics: 5 from the NSS, 3 employment-related metrics, and one measure of student continuation from HESA (Higher Education Statistical Agency). The TEF is currently at institution level (assessed against own benchmarks) but subject level TEF is due to be introduced from 2020.


Professional Development

Advance HE

Advance HE is a merger of the former Higher Education Academy, the Leadership Foundation and the Equality Challenge Unit. It was formed in 2018 and aims to “advance practice and improve outcomes for the benefit of students, staff and society.” Advance HE also runs the fellowship scheme which recognises professionalism in teaching

UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF)

A nationally-recognised framework, managed by the HEA, for benchmarking success within HE teaching and learning support. The UKPSF constitutes a set of professional standards and guidelines for everyone involved in teaching and supporting learning in HE, it can be applied to personal development programmes at individual or institutional level. University professional development programmes are often mapped to the UK PSF.

Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA)

An alternative provider to the HEA, SEDA is a professional association for staff and educational developers in the UK, promoting innovation and good practice in higher education.

Course Structure and Teaching

Levels of study

A-levels and Scottish Highers (exams taken at the end of school, age 18), UG (undergraduate), PGT (postgraduate taught), PGR (postgraduate research).
The QAA and other bodies often refer to these as: Levels 3 (A-level, Highers), 4 (1st year), 5 (2nd year), 6 (3rd year), 7 (postgraduate).

Levels of course

Programme: whole degree, i.e. BSC in economics
Module/unit: the courses that make up the programme

Credit Framework

‚ÄčNational credit frameworks are a means of quantifying and recognising learning. Credit is awarded when the specific set of learning outcomes for a module or programme have been successfully demonstrated. In the UK 1 credit typically equates to 10 hours of learning.

European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)

ECTS is a credit system designed to make it easier for students to move between different countries. Since they are based on the learning achievements and workload of a course, a student can transfer their ECTS credits from one university to another.

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)

VLEs, such as Moodle or Blackboard, are systems for delivering learning materials to students online. These systems include assessment, student tracking, and collaboration and communication tools. These may include plagiarism checking facilities such as Turnitin.

Classroom Response Systems

A classroom response system (sometimes called a student response system, or audience response system) facilitates interactive teaching such as posing questions to students and displaying their answers in real-time on the screen. This can be done with clickers or mobile phones. Examples include TurningPoint, Socrative, Learning Catalytics and Poll Everywhere.