Higher education (HE) lecturers teach academic and vocational subjects to undergraduate and postgraduate students aged 18 upwards. They work in universities and in some further education colleges.
Teaching methods include lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical demonstrations, field work and e-learning. Multimedia technologies are increasingly used.
HE lecturers also pursue their own research to contribute to the wider research activities of their department or institution. The aim is to have this published in books or scholarly articles, which can help raise the profile of their employing HE institution.
Administrative tasks take up a significant part of the working day. Many lecturers also take on a pastoral role with their students.
As HE lecturers progress along their career paths, they may be expected to undertake a managerial role of the relevant department.
The work carried out by HE lecturers varies according to individual areas of responsibility and research but often includes:
- delivering lectures, seminars and tutorials;
- developing and implementing new methods of teaching to reflect changes in research;
- designing, preparing and developing teaching materials;
- assessing students' coursework;
- setting and marking examinations;
- supporting students through a pastoral or advisory role;
- undertaking personal research projects and actively contributing to the institution's research profile;
- writing up research and preparing it for publication;
- supervising students' research activities;
- completing continuous professional development (CPD) and participating in staff training activities;
- carrying out administrative tasks related to the department, such as student admissions, induction programmes and involvement in committees and boards;
- managing and supervising staff - at a senior level this may include the role of head of department;
- representing the institution at professional conferences and seminars, and contributing to these as necessary;
- establishing collaborative links outside the university with industrial, commercial and public organisations.
- Starting salaries for higher education (HE) lecturers range from £33,000 to £43,000+.
- At a senior lecturer level or above, with increased management responsibilities, salaries can range from £39,000 to £58,000.
Salaries usually depend on academic attainment and experience. There is a nationally agreed single-pay spine in place. For details see the University and College Union (UCU).
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Although long working hours are common, there is some degree of flexibility, with lecturers being able to plan the timings of tutorials and manage their own research. Some lectures and seminars take place in the evening.
Part-time contracts and working hours are available and have become common in many HE institutions.
Career breaks are possible but lecturers need to maintain an active research profile. Some may take a sabbatical (usually up to one academic year) to concentrate on their research activities in greater depth. This would normally only be available to lecturers with a minimum of three years' service in their institution.
What to expect
- HE lecturers usually split their time between teaching contact, administrative tasks and their own research activities. The amount of time devoted to each activity varies between institutions and specialities.
- Lecturers may work in lecture theatres, classrooms, studios, laboratories, hospital wards and, if their area of study includes field work, outdoors. Some lecturers have their own offices, but others may share an office, particularly in universities where space is at a premium.
- Some lecturers get the chance to work outside their own institution, in areas such as consultancy, the media, publishing and public speaking, but this varies according to the particular area of specialty.
- Opportunities for fully self-employed status are rare. Some subject areas require lecturing staff to undertake enterprise activities.
- The UCU has an equality unit, which can provide help and guidance in different areas of equality.
- Lecturers are employed in HE institutions throughout the UK. A flexible approach to relocating may help in gaining a permanent post, particularly as posts in specialised fields are often only available at a limited number of institutions.
- There are opportunities to work abroad. Demand for higher education lecturers in countries such as China, Australia and Hong Kong has increased.
- Travel abroad for specialist conferences may be required.
To become a higher education (HE) lecturer you generally need to have a first or 2:1 degree in a subject that is relevant to what you want to lecture in. You would be starting out with a potential disadvantage if you get a 2:2 or lower, but securing a career as a higher education lecturer is still possible if you gain further qualifications and experience.
For example, you also need to have, or be working towards, a relevant PhD along with:
- demonstrable experience of, (or clear potential for), teaching;
- the ability to produce original research for peers;
- early publication of academic work.
If you do not have a PhD and want to teach an academic subject, you are likely to find it difficult to get work as a lecturer.
If you are still completing a PhD, you may be able to take on teaching duties in the role of a graduate teaching assistant, which will provide good experience.
In some research student positions, teaching and administrative responsibilities are given as a condition of receiving a bursary.
It is possible to study for a teaching qualification once in post, such as the Postgraduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.
In the early stages of your career, it may be very difficult to gain a permanent contract as an HE lecturer and you may have to accept posts on a fixed-term contract.
You will need to have:
- the ability to sustain an interest in, and enthusiasm for, the specialist research area and to impart this to students and peers;
- published research and willingness to participate at professional conferences and seminars;
- a capacity for original thought;
- expertise in the particular subject area;
- the potential to expand knowledge in order to teach a broad curriculum;
- excellent oral and written communication skills;
- confidence in dealing with a range of people;
- the ability to organise workload within competing demands;
- the capability to work both independently and as part of a team;
- excellent analytical skills;
- commitment to the profession and continuing professional development (CPD);
- a flexible approach to work;
- good IT skills.
For more vocational courses it is often necessary to have 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.
A formal teaching qualification is not essential for entry into the career but you may need to be able to demonstrate your capability for teaching. Any work experience that reflects this will be useful.
Higher education (HE) lecturers are employed by a range of institutions. Universities and further education (FE) colleges make up the largest proportion of employers, but there are a number of specialised postgraduate institutions, such as law schools and business schools, that also employ lecturers.
Most HE and FE providers are state-run, but there is a small independent sector. A quality assurance scheme for independent further and higher education colleges in the UK is provided by The British Accreditation Council; its website also features lists of accredited institutions.
Opportunities are available 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 current vacancies on their websites.
Informal networking, through conference attendance, participation in national subject-area working groups and membership of relevant associations, is increasingly important for finding out about posts.
Most institutions offer a variety of in-house training to their staff, covering:
- management skills;
- personal development;
- research techniques.
Universities usually support staff who wish to take a training course outside their own institution, if it is directly related to their work.
Once in post, you may complete a formal postgraduate teaching qualification, such as the Postgraduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. These qualifications are often now compulsory if you are a new member of staff on a permanent contract and may be completed alongside your normal working duties.
Courses generally cover theories of learning, practical skills and principles of learning within an HE context. Many universities run their own courses and these can usually be taken a module at a time, although deadlines for completion may apply.
The Higher Education Academy (HEA) accredits these courses as well as continuing professional development programmes (CPD). If you successfully complete an accredited course, you can apply for professional recognition with the HEA at the appropriate fellowship category:
- Associate Fellow;
- Senior Fellow;
- Principal Fellow.
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.
During the first few years, it is likely you will concentrate on building up your teaching skills and experience and will develop your research profile.
Higher education institutions have the quality of their research assessed by the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This is then used by funding bodies to help to decide where their research funding goes.
To help with this, you will be expected to actively contribute to the research profile of your department by consistently producing work of a publishable standard.
You also need to network with peers by attending and participating in conferences and seminars throughout your career.
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 depends on a 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 on to more senior levels, to roles such as:
There are opportunities to take on more developmental and managerial duties, e.g. 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, not least the financial position of the institution. Funding for new posts is increasingly dependent on the results of the REF and may create internal bottlenecks.
External promotions are possible, but generally the number of vacancies within a particular specialist area is likely to be low.
Career breaks may have a detrimental effect on promotion prospects, especially if they interrupt the cycle of research publications.