You'll need expertise in your subject area as well as teaching, research and administration experience to work as a higher education lecturer

As a higher education (HE) lecturer, you'll teach academic or vocational subjects to undergraduate and postgraduate students aged 18 and over. Teaching methods include lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical demonstrations, field work and e-learning. Multimedia technologies are becoming increasingly used.

You'll also pursue your own research to contribute to the wider research activities of your department or institution. The aim is to have this published in books or scholarly articles, which can help raise your institution's profile.

Administrative tasks take up a significant part of the working day. Many lecturers also take on a pastoral role with their students.

Lecturing takes place in universities and in some further education colleges.

Responsibilities

As an HE lecturer, you'll need to:

  • deliver lectures, seminars and tutorials
  • design, prepare and develop courses and teaching materials
  • develop and implement new methods of teaching to reflect changes in research
  • assess students' coursework
  • set and mark examinations
  • supervise students' research activities, including final year undergraduate projects, Masters or PhD dissertations
  • supervise your own research group, which typically includes research assistants (postdocs), PhD and Master students
  • support students through a pastoral or advisory role
  • undertake personal research projects and actively contribute to your institution's research profile
  • write up research and prepare it for publication
  • prepare bids to attract funding to your department for a range of research projects
  • carry out administrative tasks related to the department, such as student admissions, induction programmes and involvement in committees and boards
  • contribute to professional conferences and seminars in your field of expertise
  • establish collaborative links with other institutions, as well as with industrial, commercial and public organisations
  • participate in staff training activities.

As your career progresses, you may also be responsible for managing and supervising other staff in your department. At senior level, this could include taking on the role of head of department.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for higher education (HE) lecturers range from around £33,943 to £41,709.
  • At senior lecturer level, you'll typically earn between £41,709 and £55,998.
  • Salaries at professorial level can range from around £54,637 up to in excess of £107,244, depending on your level experience and managerial responsibility.

There's a nationally agreed single-pay spine in place for higher education roles in most institutions in the UK. There are separate pay scales for FE lecturing roles in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. See the University and College Union (UCU) website for details.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are 35 hours per week. However, you may need to work extra hours in order to fit in time for lectures, tutorials, your own research and administrative tasks. Some lectures and seminars take place in the evening.

Part-time contracts are available for lecturers. It's also possible to take a career break, but you'll need to maintain an active research profile. Some lecturers take a sabbatical (usually up to one academic year) to concentrate on their research activities in greater depth.

What to expect

  • You'll typically split your time between teaching contact, administrative tasks and your own research activities. The amount of time devoted to each activity varies between institutions and specialties, and in some roles you may only be required to teach, while in others you will undertake varying amounts of both teaching and research.
  • Depending on your subject area, you may work in lecture theatres, classrooms, studios, laboratories, hospital wards or outdoors (if your activities include field work).
  • Lecturers are employed in HE institutions throughout the UK. You may need to move institution to get a permanent post or to progress in specialist subject areas that are only available at a limited number of institutions.
  • Some lecturers get the chance to work outside their own institution, in areas such as consultancy, the media, publishing and public speaking. Lecturers in areas such as art and design often come from industry and maintain their own professional practice in addition to lecturing.
  • There are opportunities to work abroad and you may need to travel overseas for conferences, seminars and collaborative work with other institutions.

Qualifications

You'll generally need a first or 2:1 degree in a subject that's relevant to what you want to lecture in. For almost all disciplines, you'll also need a PhD in a related area.

You won't need a separate teaching qualification although, while doing your PhD, you may be able to take on teaching duties in the role of a graduate teaching assistant which will provide you with good experience. In some research student positions, teaching and administrative responsibilities are given as a condition of receiving a bursary.

It may be possible to become a lecturer with a 2:2 or lower if you get further qualifications and experience. If you don't have a PhD and want to teach an academic subject, you're likely to find it difficult to find work as a lecturer.

For more vocational courses you'll usually need several years' experience of working in the relevant field, as well as a degree or professional qualification. In these instances, expertise in the profession may be just as valuable as a PhD.

In the early stages of your career, it may be difficult to gain a permanent contract as an HE lecturer and you may have to accept posts on a part-time or fixed-term contract. You may be working at more than one institution at a time and have to travel between places of work.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • expertise in your subject area
  • enthusiasm for your specialist research area and the ability to pass this passion on to your students and peers
  • published research and a willingness to participate at professional conferences and seminars
  • a capacity for original thought and the ability to produce original research for publication
  • excellent oral and written communication skills in order to write reports and applications for funding, and to deliver lecturers, workshops and presentations
  • networking skills in order to build relationships with other researchers and research groups, both in the UK and overseas, as well as within your own department
  • the ability to organise your own workload and research group
  • the ability to manage your time within competing demands
  • the capability to work both independently and as part of a team to achieve both your own research goals and the aims of your department
  • excellent analytical skills
  • a flexible approach to work
  • good general IT and administrative skills.

Work experience

Try and secure teaching experience while completing your PhD, either through taking seminars and tutorials or marking essays and exams. There may also be opportunities to help with labs or lectures. Use this experience to build up your skills portfolio and take any chance to get involved in curriculum design. Any work experience that shows your capability for teaching will be useful.

Your main research experience will be your PhD thesis. Once completed, try and get this published as a book or series of articles in order to build up your research profile. Take any opportunity to present papers to your peers at conferences, workshops and lectures to show you can broaden the reach of your research.

Professional experience and industry contacts are increasingly important in HE, so any previous experience you have outside of academia will be useful, especially if applying to work at an institution which is keen to expand on its teaching excellence, student employability and graduate prospects.

Employers

Universities and further education (FE) colleges make up the largest proportion of employers. However, depending on your subject area, you may also be employed by specialist postgraduate institutions, such as law schools or business schools.

There are also opportunities to work at universities overseas. Details of HE institutions in the Commonwealth countries are available from the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).

Look for job vacancies at:

Individual HE and FE institutions also list vacancies on their websites. You can also find jobs in research journals related to your field of expertise, as well as on the websites and in job alerts from professional bodies.

Networking is another valuable way of finding out about posts. You can do this through attending conferences and seminars, working collaboratively with other institutions and joining relevant professional associations.

Professional development

Once in a post, you can complete a formal postgraduate teaching and learning qualification. Many universities run their own postgraduate certificate courses, which are often now compulsory if you're a new member of staff on a permanent contract. Courses typically cover theories of learning, practical skills and principles of learning within an HE context.

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) accredits these courses as well as continuing professional development (CPD) programmes. If you successfully complete an accredited course, you can apply for professional recognition with the HEA at the appropriate fellowship category. For more information, see HEA Fellowships.

The HEA also offers workshops, toolkits, research and other resources to help those who are new to teaching in higher education.

It's also possible to progress to a Masters in Higher Education. Some universities run enhanced teaching and academic leadership programmes for more experienced staff.

Most institutions will offer a variety of in-house training, covering areas such as:

  • administration
  • IT
  • management skills
  • personal development
  • research techniques.

They will usually support you if you wish to take a training course outside your own institution if it's directly related to your work.

Career prospects

You're likely to concentrate on building up your teaching skills and experience and developing your research profile in the first few years.

In order to increase your career prospects, you'll need to:

  • attend and participate in conferences, workshops and seminars
  • present research and papers at conferences
  • actively contribute to the research profile of your department by getting your research published in high quality peer-reviewed journals
  • undertake work exchanges abroad
  • prepare bids and apply for research grants and funding.

Early responsibility is common and most lecturers are given a high degree of independence in their work very early on. As your career progresses, you can expect to take on further responsibility in teaching, research or administration and, in some cases, a combination of all three. Management responsibilities are also likely to increase.

Promotion to more senior levels will depend on your willingness to undertake different roles and on the continued demonstration of an active research profile. These senior levels may include posts such as senior lecturer and principal lecturer.

If you continue to build up expertise after achieving these positions, you may be able to progress to the roles of reader, chair, professor or dean.

There are opportunities to take on more developmental and managerial duties, for example programme/course director or module leader, which can reduce the proportion of hours dedicated to research and student time. Further career opportunities include working as an examiner or an academic author.

Prospects for promotion vary and depend on a number of factors, including the financial position of your institution.