What is Higher Education teaching?

As a Higher Education (HE) lecturer you will teach academic or vocational subjects to undergraduate and postgraduate students aged 18 and over. You will need to have a high level of expertise in your subject area, in addition to teaching, research and administration experience.

Your responsibilities will include delivering lectures, seminars, tutorials and, depending on your discipline, practical demonstrations and field work. Within your role you might also be expected to pursue your own research to contribute to the wider research activities of your institution in line with the Research Excellence Framework. Overall, the aim may be to have your work published, which will contribute to the profile of your institution.

Alongside your teaching and research workloads, administrative tasks will take up a significant amount of your time, in addition to taking on a pastoral role with your students.

Lecturing as an academic can take place within universities and in some further education colleges.

Other responsibilities are likely to include:

  • The design and preparation of course and teaching materials

  • The development and implementation of new teaching methods, reflecting changes within your research and discipline area

  • Assessment of work, including coursework and examinations

  • Supervision of students’ research activities, including dissertation projects

  • Offering pastoral support and liaising with central university/college support services

  • Contributing to research funding bids and professional conferences and seminars in your area of expertise

  • Engagement in a range of ongoing professional development opportunities

What do you need to be a Lecturer?

A first or a 2:1 degree in a relevant subject will be essential, and for most disciplines you will also need a doctoral level qualification - a PhD, EngD, DPhil, DBA and so on. This demonstrates that you can both carry out research professionally and communicate your findings in an academic setting.

Whilst you will not need an additional teaching qualification, during the completion of your PhD you may be encouraged to take on teaching duties which will offer excellent experience for future applications.

It is important to note, that whilst a PhD is required for many academic roles within universities, there are some areas, for example architecture, law and education where fewer staff are expected to have a PhD due to the nature of the school or faculty they are working within. Vocational courses typically require several years’ of industry experience, in addition to a degree and/or professional qualification. For some discipline areas, professional expertise may be just as sought after as a PhD. However, even in these professional areas, gaining a doctoral level qualification and research experience is likely to enhance your career prospects.

Routes into academia and lecturing

There are multiple things to consider in order to enhance your chances of developing your career as an academic.

  • Choosing the right university - look for those institutions which have a substantial portfolio of courses related to your discipline or if you are looking to teach in a vocational area search for those which have close links with the profession or industry in which you have experience. For disciplines where both research and teaching are linked to the non-academic workplace - including architecture, manufacturing and law - some universities may be interested in you for research roles, but you are likely to be asked to pursue a doctoral qualification.

  • Getting teaching experience - aiming to build your teaching experience prior to applying for academic posts may be helpful. For instance, you may wish to consider teaching part-time or evening classes; contributing to guest lectures; or, if you are out in industry, engaging in professional development programmes for a professional body. Whilst studying for a PhD try to secure teaching experience through taking seminars or tutorials or supporting the assessment of coursework and exams. There may also be opportunities to help within labs or lectures and/or become involved in curriculum design. This combined experience will help you to build on your skills portfolio and strengthen future applications.

  • Getting research experience - your main research experience is likely to be your Master’s and/or PhD thesis. Striving for published work as a result of your research will help to build up your profile and reputation. Embrace any opportunity to present papers to peers at conferences, within workshops and lectures to demonstrate the reach of your research.

  • Use your academic contacts - think about any academic contacts you have established - either throughout your academic career to date or through professional work experience. If you don’t have a conventional academic background then this can be particularly important. Your academic contacts may also be able to signpost you to other academic job opportunities or groups with an interest in your area.

  • Use your professional contacts - within higher education, professional experience and industry contacts have become increasingly useful, especially when applying to an institution which is committed to expanding on its teaching excellence, student employability and graduate prospects.

Training and development

Having secured a post you may then go on to complete a formal postgraduate teaching and learning qualification. Many institutions will deliver their own postgraduate certificate courses, which are often compulsory if you secure a permanent work contract.The content of these qualifications is likely to cover theories of learning, practical skills and principles of learning within a higher education context. 

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) may accredit these courses, in addition to offering continuing professional development programmes. Upon completion of an accredited course you can apply for professional recognition with the HEA at the appropriate fellowship level.

It is also possible to work towards a Masters in Higher Education, with some institutions running enhanced teaching and academic leadership programmes for more experienced staff.

Moving forward when developing your career as an academic, you will need to focus on building both your teaching skills and, possibly, research profile. To support this you might need to attend and participate in conferences, workshops and seminars; present research and papers at national and/or international conferences; contribute to the research profile or your department or institution through published work in high quality journals; undertake work exchanges abroad; and apply for research grants and funding.

Moving forward and developing your career in academia and research may lead to further positions of responsibility, such as senior lecturer or principal lecturer. Beyond this you may also progress to the roles of reader, chair, professor or dean, once you have builty up further expertise.

This information has been sourced from prospects.ac.uk.

Application process

The application process for academic roles may vary across organisations/institutions, but typically may involve producing an academic CV, a cover letter and/or a personal statement as part of an application form.

The Careers and Employability Service can support you in developing a strong personal statement for your application. Once you have drafted your personal statement you can either call in to make an appointment to discuss your statement with an adviser, or use our MyCareer online booking system to book an appointment to suit you.

Getting a job once qualified

Typical employers within this area will include universities and further education colleges. However, depending on your discipline, you may also have the opportunity to apply to specialist postgraduate institutions, for example law or business schools.

Key sources of vacancies include:

If you are considering working for a university overseas, details of Higher Education institutions in the Commonwealth countries are available from the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU).

Also keep in mind that individual universities and colleges are likely to list vacancies on their webpages. Networking is also another way of finding out about opportunities that may become available - aim to engage in conferences, seminars and opportunities to work collaboratively with colleagues at your own and other institutions.

This information has been sourced from prospects.ac.uk.