Higher education (HE) lecturers teach academic or vocational subjects to undergraduate and postgraduate students aged 18 and over

As an HE lecturer, you'll need expertise in your subject area in order to teach students. 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.

You may also be known as a university lecturer or further education lecturer.

Responsibilities

As an HE lecturer, you'll need to:

  • deliver lectures, seminars and tutorials
  • design, prepare and develop courses, modules and teaching materials
  • develop and implement new methods of teaching to reflect changes in research
  • assess students' coursework
  • set, mark and moderate examinations and assessments
  • 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 Masters students
  • support students through a pastoral or advisory role
  • undertake individual and collaborative research projects that are published in peer-reviewed journals and actively contribute to your institution's research profile
  • write up research and prepare it for publication
  • research, develop and prepare bids and proposals to attract external 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.

You may also have to deliver sessions live online to support student learning and also to develop online learning resources

As your career progresses, you may also be responsible for mentoring, managing and supervising other staff in your department. At senior level, this could include taking on the role of head of department. You may also have responsibility for curriculum development and engagement activities.

Salary

  • Salaries for higher education (HE) lecturers typically range from around £33,797 to £49,553, depending on the university and your experience.
  • At senior lecturer level, you'll typically earn between £39,152 and £59,135, depending on the university and your experience.
  • Salaries at professorial level can reach in excess of £100,000, depending on your level of 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 the latest information on salary scales.

In addition to your salary, you will receive a pension. You may also receive additional benefits such as discounted gym membership, cycle to work scheme, staff support counselling and an employee assistant programme.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Although working hours are 35 hours per week, you're likely to work longer hours, including evenings and weekends, to fit in time for lectures and lecture preparation, tutorials, your own research, marking, outreach work, open days, students' supervision 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.

There may be opportunities for flexible working.

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'll 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 institutions 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 need a good 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.

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, significant expertise in the profession may be just as valuable as a PhD.

It's becoming more common for lecturers to also have, or to be working towards, a higher education teaching qualification or to have equivalent experience such as Advance HE Fellowship (FHEA).

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'll 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 collaboratively as part of a team to achieve both your own research goals and the aims of your department
  • the ability to undertake a range of administrative and managerial responsibilities
  • excellent analytical skills
  • a flexible approach to work
  • good general IT skills.

Work experience

Try and get some teaching experience while completing your PhD. You may be able to take on teaching duties in the role of a graduate teaching assistant, which can involve taking seminars and tutorials or marking essays and exams. There may also be opportunities to help with labs or lectures. In some research student positions, teaching and administrative responsibilities are given as a condition of receiving a bursary.

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.

Look for job vacancies at:

Individual HE and FE institutions also list vacancies on their websites. Alternatively, you can 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 post, if you haven't already completed a higher education teaching qualification, you will usually be expected to do so. These come under a variety of names, including the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE) and Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

It's also common for academics in the early stages of their career to work towards Advance HE Fellowship (FHEA). Advance HE also provides a portfolio of workshops, toolkits, events and conferences for staff at all stages of their career.

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.

Your institution will usually support you if you wish to take a training course elsewhere, if the course is directly related to your work.

Active membership of a professional body relevant to your area of expertise is also important in terms of your professional development.

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.

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