Guide to University Language

Along with many other things that will be new to you in the coming weeks, you will at times wonder if people around you are speaking a new language! University is full of new terminology which you will probably never encounter outside of a Campus. To help you with this, we've produced a handy guide to university language which will hopefully explain some of these weird and wonderful new terms.

Academic Year   

This is the university year, which runs from September to July. You can see the course dates  on the UoB Term dates intranet pages


This is a community of former students who have graduated. We have a very active community of alumni, many of whom also act as volunteers supporting our current students, through, e.g., the Alumni Leadership Mentoring scheme. and by speaking at careers events. (Note: 'alumni' is the plural, then it's 'alumna' for a woman, 'alumnus' for a man, 'alumnum' is non-gender specific, and 'alumnae' is more than one female alumna!)  

Bachelors degree /Undergraduate degree 

This can also be called a ‘first degree’ and is the qualification you achieve after successfully completing a three (or four) year programme at university. In the College of Social Sciences our students are awarded a mixture of 'Bachelor of Art' degrees (usually abbreviated to BA) and 'Bachelor of Science' degrees (BSc).  


The campus refers to the buildings and grounds where a university. The University of Birmingham has several campuses in different locations, the main one being the Edgbaston Campus (with the Main Library), and a smaller one in Selly Oak.   


This is the University's Virtual Learning Environment, where all your course-related material will be hosted. 


The University of Birmingham is split in to 5 academic colleges. These are essentially the same as faculties and operate to deliver education and the student experience to their students. This may mean that things are done slightly differently as colleges cater to the needs of their students.   

College of Social Sciences (CoSS)  

CoSS is the College where your academic school or department sits in the university. This means that you belong to a rich community of academics and peers who have a keen interest in subjects spanning Business, Social Policy, Government and Education.   


All modules undertaken at the University of Birmingham have a ‘credit’ value. For example, a module that lasts for two semesters could have a total of 20 credits. For you to progress to your next year of study you need to have taken a total of 120 credits. Ten credits is equivalent to 100 learning hours, which includes lectures, tutorials/seminars, personal study and assessment.  


A degree is a qualification awarded by a university after the satisfactory completion of a degree programme (this could be a undergraduate or postgraduate level) This is the equivalent of three years of full-time study for undergraduates or four years if you have a year abroad or a year in industry.   


A branch of knowledge, e.g. political theory or accounting.   


A dissertation is normally a long report (often around 10,000 words), which most undergraduates will write in your final year of study and postgraduates in their final semester. You will choose a topic you're particularly interested in and will be closely supervised by lecturer. Not all programmes in the College of Social Sciences necessarily include a dissertation. Some Joint Honours students will do two smaller essays, or a 'Linked' dissertation combining the two parts of your course. You'll find out more about the different options in your second year or you can discuss this with your Personal Academic Tutor.    


This term refers to how suitable a person is for employment. The College of Social Sciences offers lots of opportunities to help students improve their employability (i.e. to make you more attractive to employers), by offering events, workshops, training sessions, schemes, and placement modules (on some subjects). You can find out more about careers support here.  

Enhanced Transcript  

A transcript is a summary of your academic performance and progress to date. It lists the modules taken during each academic year, and the marks obtained in each module. When you graduate, you'll get an official copy of your transcript, along with your degree certificate. As of 2016, you'll also receive an enhanced transcript, which lists a range of extracurricular activities undertaken whilst at University, such as volunteering.   

External Examiners   

The external examiner system is in place to ensure that students are marked fairly, and standards are maintained. External examiners are usually academics from other institutions. They moderate students’ assessments to ensure that the grade they received was appropriate. Exam questions are also approved by external examiners.  


Tuition fees are the costs that students (or student loan companies) have to pay to receive their education. This fee pays for everything – from you the cost of teaching to the electric bills to light up your lecture theatre, everything that’s needed to provide you with an excellent learning experience. To find out more about tuition fees visit the UoB Tuition fee webpage

Foundation Degree Programmes   

This is a programme designed to prepare students who have acceptable qualifications for general university entry, but do not have the appropriate level or coverage for a specific degree programme. Students undertake the foundation programme and then progress into the undergraduate degree programme in a discipline of their choice.   

Guild of Students  

Nearly every University has a Students’ Union – ours is called a Guild. Every student at the university is automatically a member of the student’s union which is led by students who you elect from the student body each year. The Guild represents the interests of students across a whole range of issues. It also provides a focal point for social activities on campus for all students. You'll find out more about the Guild later in these resources! 

Graduate and Graduand  

This is the term used for a person who has completed and passed his or her degree and been awarded their qualification. A graduand is someone who has finished their studies and is about to graduate.  A student studying for a degree is known as an undergraduate.  


The graduation ceremony is where a student formally collects their degree. You can graduate without attending the ceremony (although you do need to have your qualification confirmed) but it is an excellent opportunity to celebrate your achievements and reflect on your time at University.   

HE – Higher Education   

This is education and training for students of 18 years and older, who have completed the required amount of study in further education (college or sixth form). Institutions such as universities often provide Higher Education in the form of degree programmes.   

Home Students/ UK students 

This applies to students who are based in the UK at the time of application to the institution and meet residence requirements.   

Honours Degree (Hons)  

This is a degree programme taken at university. It is normally a first degree which lasts three or four years. An honours degree requires extra modules/units to be studied in comparison to an Ordinary Degree, often in the form of a dissertation.  


The initial weeks at university where you will be briefed on how your programme of study will work and how you can make the most of your time as a student. This course forms part of your induction, and you'll receive more information over the coming weeks about what the University and your School will be doing for the rest of your induction activities. 

International Students   

This is a term used to describe students who come to the UK to study from other countries. We are really lucky in the College of Social Sciences (CoSS) to have a diverse student population who have varied cultures and experiences, we encourage our students to learn as much as they can about each other to enrich their experience of university.   

Joint Honours  

Joint Honours is a form of degree which offers students the chance to study two related subjects to degree level.   


A lecture is a lesson given by an academic member of staff, usually to a large number of students. Many lecturers also give out resources and information to help you with your notetaking and to act as a point of reference for further reading.   


Lecturers are academic members of staff at university who are responsible for the teaching of university degree programmes.    

Masters degree (MA, MRes, MSc)  

Masters degrees are postgraduate taught courses which allow students to extend their learning for one to two years after they have graduated from their undergraduate (Bachelors) degree.  

Mature Student   

This applies to students who are over 21 when they start their undergraduate programme or 25 when starting their postgraduate taught programme. There is lots of support for students returning to education after a break offered by the Academic Skills Centre. Students who identify as a mature student can also join the Postgraduate and Mature Students' Association.  


The meaning of mentor/mentoring varies from organisation to organisation. However, it usually refers to a one-to-one, non-judgmental relationship in which an individual gives his/her time to support and encourage another.    


A module is a unit of study that explores a specific area within a subject. Broad modules that cover a wide topic, usually in first year, are called 'survey modules' and aim to provide an introduction to that subject.  

National Student Survey (NSS)  

The National Student Survey. (NSS) is a nationally recognised annual survey of final year undergraduates in the UK.  

National Union of Students (NUS)  

The National Union of Students (Links to an external site.) commonly known as NUS is an organisation ran by elected student representatives. The NUS represent students on all kinds of issues and often runs campaigns on things that matter to students. The Guild of Students at Birmingham is a member of NUS so your views are represented to them too.   

Personal Academic Tutor  

Students are allocated a personal tutor as soon as they start university, this year you will also be allocated a tutor group which will meet weekly. This is an opportunity for you to speak to your peers and your personal tutor about matters related to all areas of the university and your studies.  If your tutor isn’t sure how to help with your query they may signpost you to another area of the university that can help.   


Plagiarism is the use or close imitation of the work of another author and claiming it is original work. Plagiarism can also occur if another author’s ideas or use of language are not referenced correctly. To avoid this, students should follow a referencing guide. Students should check with their lecturer which one is appropriate for their work, you can find out more about Academic Integrity (another phrase used for plagiarism) by reading the Academic Integrity website  

Professional Services   

Professional Services refers to members of non-teaching staff who support administration and management at the university. As an example, your College Wellbeing Officers belong to the universities Professional Services.   

Programme Administrator   

These are the members of staff that do all the administrative tasks related to your programmes and work closely with your lecturers. You may have communication from them about module choices, assessments and feedback. If you have any queries about these things you should direct them to the Programme Administration Teams in your schools.   


At the University of Birmingham, this word is used to mean 'term'. There are two semesters – September – January and January – July. 


A seminar is a small group of students and a lecturer who meet to discuss aspects of the course or a specific topic being covered in lectures.  

Single Honours  

This is an honours degree course in which a student studies a single subject, for example Business Management.   


Student Societies are sometimes referred to as Student Groups and are where like-minded people can share their interests, beliefs, religion or sport. You will find all of the information you need about student societies at the Guild of Students (Links to an external site.) and UoB Sport. Joining a sports club or society is a great way to make friends when you start university.   

Student Experience Officers   

Student Experience Officers (SEOs) work closely with other members of staff in the university to plan activities and events for students.  If you want to chat about your experience or provide feedback you can speak with one of our SEOs.   

Student Representatives   

There are student representatives for each course. Any student can put themselves forward to be a rep and it’s a great way to enhance your skills and experience. Reps give feedback to the university on things impacting the student and academic experience and work closely with the Student Experience Officers.  You'll find out much more about the role of Student Reps, and how to become one, later on in this course. 

Wellbeing Officers  

Wellbeing Officers are often the first port of call for students who are experiencing personal difficulties at university. In CoSS our College Wellbeing Team can help with advice, support and guidance on a range of issues that students commonly face during their studies. They work closely with other departments within the University to get students the right support at the right time and can be contacted by email or appointment.   

Year/Study Abroad  

You may have the opportunity during your degree to study or work abroad for a year (usually the third year of a four-year degree) as part of your programme of study.  Some students also study for a semester abroad. You'll get more information about these opportunities in your first semester of teaching. 


Professional Services