Your definitive guide to HE sector pronunciations

Image: Shutterstock

For aspiring wonks and those who have been around longer (who should really know better), it’s always important to have a good grasp of how to correctly pronounce the names of sector organisations.

One of the particularly interesting aspects of the passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill through the House of Lords has been the many and varied pronunciations of a range of sector acronyms which have been uttered in debate. This is a major issue for the sector and one which the Minister’s recently proposed amendments have failed to address.

This has to be tackled.

Those with long memories will recall a few years back there was an attempt here to clarify one particularly contentious pronunciation problem.

This issue has not gone away. So, to bring an end to dinner party embarrassment and shameful muttering in conference contributions here is your definitive guide to some of the most challenging acronyms and the unquestionably correct way to pronounce them. Their Lordships should find it handy too.

HEFCE – definitively, once and for all (and while it’s still here) it is hef-key. Not hef-see, hef-kay or H.E.F.C.E but hef-key.

AHUA – while many like to say ah-hoo-ah this does have different connotations in the North East of England and Scotland and therefore the official pronunciation is A.H.U.A.

BUFDG – one of my sector favourites this – buff-dog is the widely accepted form, but there is a minority view that boo-fudge sounds nicer.

BEIS – this is a tricky one as there has inevitably been some jockeying for position following the establishment of the new department. Not B.E.I.S or bees or beece but apparently it is baize.

HESA – not hessa as recently essayed by Baroness Goldie in the House of Lords during the HE Bill debate or even hezza as Lord Lucas preferred but hee-sa.

AURIL – not awe-rill but ow-rill apparently (but not too many people worry about this one).

UKPISG – one of my personal favourites this. U.K.-piss-gee appears to be the most commonly accepted version. Which is nice.

DLHE – lots of people seem to struggle with this, but it is del-ee.

UKRI – again with a new agency there is something of a battle on to establish a definitive position, but you-cry does seem to be winning out over you-kree and uck-ree.

HEFCW – looks tricky on paper but is straightforward really – it’s hef-coo (best said with a Welsh intonation if possible).

AUDE – some Estates directors do prefer to say the name as if it were a sports car but it isn’t Audi/ow-dee, it is awe-day.

UKCISA – I’ve always struggled with this one, but the definitive line from the organisation itself is you-keeza.

USHA – not the solicitor character in the Archers (oo-sha) but the Universities Safety and Health Association (yes, they changed the normal order of the words so they could do this) which is known as ush-ah.

UCASyou-cass not uck-ass as it is occasionally pronounced by older generations (presumably recalling their days talking about their UCCA applications).

Wonkhe – I am still amazed at the number of colleagues who seem reluctant to pronounce our name correctly as wonky preferring instead to say wonk-H.E.

So, do you agree with all of these? You should, because you know I’m right. What other sector pronunciation challenges have I missed out?

72 thoughts on “Your definitive guide to HE sector pronunciations”

  1. UKCISA may very well be you-keeza, but UCISA will always be you-ky-za.

    As for DLHE, I had a colleague who will remain nameless who could pronounce it, but then insisted on spelling it as Delhi….

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      Uh oh. Surely UCISA is you-sizah?

      1. Tom says:

        you-sizah for sure

      2. Judith Davison says:

        Agreed, you-sizah

    2. Mary says:

      I work in careers and frequently am the first person to tell academics about DLHE (either because they’re new to the UK, in their first position, or just impressively oblivious), and I say, “DLHE – that’s the Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education survey, D-L-H-E” and watch them write down DELI and die a little inside.

  2. Catherine Boyd says:

    Another one is QAA. Normally pronounced as the acronym, I have known some to say “kwaa”. Very upsetting for all involved.

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      kwaa !!! That really is extraordinary. Time-saving, yes, but really awkward.

    2. Mark Leach says:

      I’ve literally never heard that. That’s really nuts.

      1. Iain Mansfield says:

        QAA may not be ‘kwaa’, but HEFCE’s QARSAC is just as it looks: ‘kwaa-sak’

        1. Paul Greatrix says:

          Niche. Had to look it up to find that’s the Quality Assurance and Regulation Strategic Advisory Committee. And ‘kwaa-sak’ really doesn’t trip off the tongue either!

          1. Douglas Blackstock says:

            The kwaa comes from the 1990’s when critics referred to the emerging Code of Practice as QAAHILI pronounced Kwaahilee.

      2. Paul Greatrix says:

        Re QAAHILI. I do remember people describing any QAA related terminology as ‘kwaaheelee’ as if it were an hilarious different language

        1. Maureen mc says:

          Paul is correct : like Swahili, qaahili was indeed a language in itself, characterised best by the phrase ‘one might wish to consider’ aka ‘you need to sort this out RIGHT now!’

  3. Paul Ashby says:

    A new entry with LEO data. Leo as in Sayer, or El Ee Oh as in ELO?

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      The show must go on. Has to be Leo as in Sayer.

  4. UKPI’s – make sure you type correctly in your search engine. Can get a really nasty surprise if not.

  5. Paul Norris says:

    I’d suggest looking to the continent for a couple of these.

    AUDE as in the French département. Though estates directors may want to avoid charges of Catharism.

    In German EI is always “eye”, so BEIS should be “Bice” as in Mice.

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      Controversial in a Brexit context!

    2. Mark Leach says:

      I liked ‘bice’ for the German connotation in the context of a Germanic-style industrial strategy. Sadly the plans fall somewhat short of that, and in any case ministers and civil servants over there are saying ‘baize’ 🙁

      1. Hilary Bagshaw says:


    3. Karel Thomas says:

      BEIS – as in mice, I think. And the German verb “to bite”…

      Here at BUFDG we’ll answer to most things, but the first sign that was affixed to our office door included an “o”… I prefer BUFDG, but it is a bit long-winded and eyes have usually glazed over by the time I get to “F”

      1. Paul Greatrix says:

        I haven’t heard many votes for B.U.F.D.G. but think it is because the idea of a buff-dog is just so entertaining!

  6. Eric Stoller says:

    Great…now I have a head full of US and UK HE acronym pronunciations. Useful for trivia?

  7. Paul Greatrix says:

    Worry not Eric, that’s going to be incredibly handy for the next Wonkhe pub quiz.

  8. Lucy Druesne says:

    What about HE-BCI, heb-see or heb-key?

    1. Mark Leach says:

      I have heard HE-bee-cee-eye most.

      1. Paul Greatrix says:

        heb-see for me

      2. Heb-see is the way we all pronounce it at hee-sa.

        1. matt says:

          I’ve heard it as heb-kiss, including the ‘S’ for ‘survey’

  9. David Malcolm says:

    I’m currently trying to work out how you pronounce JNCHES (“jinches” to rhyme with inches, “jin-chess” maybe?)

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      Ah, JNCHES! I’ve only ever heard it as gin-chiz (i.e. rhyming with inches as you say)

      1. Mark Leach says:

        Seconded, they call it gin-chez

        1. David Malcolm says:

          If you both agree that’s definitive enough for me!

  10. You’ve missed AMOSSHE! a-mosh-ee, not a-mosh-ay, or ‘Moshie’ as my mother calls it… And I’ll always be a HEF-SEA, sorry, it’s just how I was brought up….

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      Apologies. But perhaps less controversial

  11. Amerjit Basi says:

    What about Department for Education? No consensus even internally, D..F..E or deefee.

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      I have to say I’ve only heard D.F.E. I rather like deefee though. Sweet.

  12. Katie Shaw says:

    Just to be current surely BEIS is pronounced ‘baes’ as in “my bae’s the sweetest, he just put a student on the OfS (smilely faced heart eye emoji)”

    *just to clarify, Jo Johnson isn’t my bae

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      You are of course absolutely right Katie. I was imagining snooker halls and green cloth. This is much more like the way to embed the idea. (And important clarification is noted.)

      1. Katie Shaw says:

        I think we should assign emoji’s to each sector agency 💃🏻

        1. Paul Greatrix says:

          I think this an EXCELLENT idea

  13. Tom says:

    And the soon to be Office for Students: O.F.S or Off-ess (or my personal favourite though slightly off piste Off-Stu)

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      All still up for grabs although the sectoral costs of casual deployment of extra syllables have been noted elsewhere.

    2. Gordon says:

      Or just a simple ‘Office’

      1. Paul Greatrix says:

        Good point. But might get confusing between your/my office and THE Office.

    3. OFS does sound like ‘office’ when said phonetically. I for one am very excited about The Office coming to HE.

    4. David Malcolm says:

      I’m hoping “Off-Stud” catches on.

      1. Katie Shaw says:

        Or just ‘off’ cos there’s no students David

  14. johnnysrich says:

    I am sure that JoJo had it in mind to help solve the heff-key/heff-see debate by announcing the imminent change of pronunciation to Oh-eff-ess. Start practising.

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      It’s a heck of a thing to introduce a whole Higher Education and Research Bill just to resolve the HEFCE pronunciation debate. Probably worth it, on balance.

      1. Mark Leach says:

        Probably would have been quicker and more desirable (?) just to pass a law making it illegal to say ‘heffsee’

        1. David Morris says:

          More ‘universities crack down on freedom of speech’ headlines there Mark.

          1. David Morris says:


          2. Katie Shaw says:

            Be careful or you’ll be red listed!

        2. dkernohan says:

          [note to future historians: though this was not the first sign of Beloved Life-President Leach’s despotism, it was an early public indication of the path his later career would take]

  15. Even though I agree with del-ee, to be honest, I’m usually just relieved if folks avoid writing it as “DHLE”. What do they even think that would stand for, anyway?

  16. Mark Gray says:

    My bugbear: HEIF, which almost everyone I meet insists on pronouncing ‘High-ff’ – including no doubt the Ch-high-ff Accountant (?!?)

    It is so obviously ‘Heef’ I worry I am becoming a pedant.

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      Fear you are trying to hold back the tide there Mark. Can honestly say I’ve never heard anyone say ‘heef’

      1. Mark Gray says:

        Actually, reflecting on it now a bit more I am now not sure I have been getting this wrong all these years and being pointlessly implacable in supporting ‘Heef’. If, as elsewhere in English, the second vowel strengthens first, then it should be ‘High-ff’.

        Still seems wrong,though, somehow.

        1. Mark Leach says:

          I always say ‘highf’ – just one syllable. This is the most common I think.

          1. Karel Thomas says:

            Noble of Mark to concede. Cheef accountants can rest easy now.

  17. Douglas Blackstock says:

    I always thought the neatest was the now defunct FISHES… A gathering of IT folks in sector bodies, Forum for Information Services in the Higher Education Sector

    1. Paul Greatrix says:


  18. Paul Greatrix says:

    A late entry to the list here (thanks to Rachel Greatrix): the Higher Education Liaison Officers Association, HELOA. I’m pretty sure this is ‘hello-ah’ but I have heard quite a few people use the Hawaiian ‘allo-hah’ even though the letters don’t spell that.

  19. Mark Gray says:

    Wasn’t in it long enough to ask, but assumed SCUTREA is always ‘Scoo-tray-ah’? Or is it ‘Scut-ray-ah’?

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      Genuinely no idea. It’s really not a very nice acronym though.

  20. Chris Shelley says:

    Pleased to say I seem to have passed that test with flying colours. It makes me laugh how many internal working groups, processes, functions we have in the university that have acronyms that don’t spell anything like a real word, but people insist on trying to make one out of it. Surely SPMM is just S.P.M.M. Not “Spum”.

    1. Paul Greatrix says:

      Very good point. Not every research project needs an acronym

  21. Another entry! I’ve just seen the consultation document for ‘NEWDLHE’ – I know it should really be ‘New-Delhi’ but wouldn’t ‘noodley’ be more fun?

  22. Andy Fryer says:

    UCEA is a glaring omission (in the eyes of UCEA). You see, huh?

  23. James Lush says:

    Working at ECU, I have been surprised to hear us called Ek-oo over recent years. E.C.U. will do!

Leave a Reply

Comments 72 See all

  1. Mary View
  2. Karel Thomas View
  3. Hilary Bagshaw View
  4. Judith Davison View