This article is more than 3 years old

Understanding university jargon

This article is more than 3 years old

Alan Sutherland is CEO at Surrey SU

Congratulations to all new SU officers taking up positions this month.

It’s an incredible thing that all around the country the peaceful transition of power happens so smoothly each year, and as someone who loves working for student officers, it’s the question I get asked so frequently – how do you deal with a change every year?

Well that is in fact the great thing – there is never a rut to get stuck in, because new ideas come through the door each handover.

There is of course one perennial challenge – the handover. There is a huge mountain of knowledge to climb for student officers and every SU delivers an intensive training session each year to induct the new faces to the inner sanctum of university life.

One of the big challenges in transitioning from “ordinary” student to “extra-ordinary” student officer is understanding what is said in university committee papers and communications.

To that end, here is a handy cut out and keep guide to what university language really means.

Messages of joy and unity

Senior management missives are a corporate communication artform. They are designed to make the interesting banal, and the banal interesting.

What it saysWhat it means
Colleagues will be awareI emailed you about this, you ignored me.
Staff will be pleased to learnStaff will not be pleased to learn
As … has previously announced… has told me to write this email
Following on from my previous communicationYou all thought I had forgotten about this
… who has now decided to take on new challengesWe fired them
… who will be leaving the organisation shortlyWe are about to fire them
… who has long been a valued member of the organisationWe can’t afford to fire them
… who has sadly left the organisationThey had the password to our Amazon account
To promote a sustainable approachParking permits are going up

The pen is mightier than the sword

The art of committee paper writing is finely honed over time. Here lies a dangerous path riddled with university governors and finance lay members who require concise and informative committee papers – this is not the place to expose your cock-ups.

What they sayWhat they mean
Some slippage in the project timeline300 first years will be in a Travelodge for the first term
There were significant project learningsWe went £8m over budget
There remains some final snagging to resolveThe roof has fallen in
We are reviewing our procurement challengesThe builder has gone bust
There remain some regulatory challengesThe Office for Students will never let us do this
There are significant regulatory challengesThe Office for Students has found out we are trying to do this
There are fundamental regulatory and reputational challengesThe Telegraph has asked the Office for Students for a quote about this
Flipped learningLook it up on YouTube
Self-guided studyLook it up on Google Scholar
Academic misconductYou looked it up on Wikipedia
Traditional learningThis lecturer refuses to put their powerpoint on the VLE
Dynamic learning environmentThere are not enough chairs in this teaching room
Sustainable recruitment strategyNumbers are down
Competitive recruitment conditionsUCL have cleaned up
Significant IT investmentWe’ve installed Windows 10
The latest learning technologiesMicrosoft Office
Financial pressuresWhitetak is just as good as blutak
Significant financial pressuresHave you considered exploring new opportunities?

If you can’t beat them

Don’t think for a moment that the SU is immune to corporate doublespeak, after a few months you’ll be using the lingo like a pro – and you will even understand what union staff are telling you.

What they sayWhat they mean
Representing your academic interestsPlease give us 5 in the NSS
Making your voice heardSharing your memes on Instagram
Forgive me if this has already been discussedI totally disagree with what my predecessor wanted
It would be great to get this wrapped up before the end of termI don’t want my successor taking the credit for this
Helping you deal with the stress of examsOMG have you seen these puppies???
There may be some potential conflicts with the Staff/Student protocolNo
We may have some resource challenges with thisNo
Perhaps this is an initiative that could be discussed at the next Board meeting?No
That may be at odds with our charitable objectsDefinitely no.
Yes, that’s a great ideaNo, that’s a dreadful idea
All profits are reinvested in your student experienceIf we made a profit, it would be reinvested into your student experience

If you’ve heard – or hear – any more, I’d love to know and add to the list. Leave a comment below!

4 responses to “Understanding university jargon

  1. My favourite is “I am slightly confused as to why…” which of course translates to “I am absolutely furious that the SU is doing this”.

  2. “That’s an operational matter”
    From the university translates to “we’ve no idea whether it can actually be done”
    From the SU staff translates to “keep your nose out”

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