Your definitive guide to HE sector pronunciations

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?

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72 responses to “Your definitive guide to HE sector pronunciations

    1. 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.

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

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

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

        1. 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!’

  2. 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. 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’ 🙁

    2. 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. 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!

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

  4. 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. 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.)

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

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

        1. [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]

  7. 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?

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

      1. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

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

  12. 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”.

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