Higher Education

Universities and other higher education institutions (HEIs) are major employers, particularly of those with higher degrees. In addition to lecturing staff, they also employ many others in research, administration and other support roles. For example, the University of Manchester employs almost 11,500 staff.

In addition there are many other support staff, plus those who are employed specifically as teaching only staff, the majority of whom are likely to be postgraduates who teach or demonstrate for a few hours a week on undergraduate programmes.

Academia - Getting into lecturing and research

Most HE lecturers have either a PhD or extensive professional expertise from other sectors. In spite of their title, their prime role is generally conducting or directing research, with lecturing and administration accounting for a smaller proportion of their time.

In science and engineering subjects, potential HE lecturers generally spend time after completing their PhD working as researchers on fixed term projects, led by other HE lecturers. Subsequently, they may secure funding to work on their own independently led research projects (again, fixed term). Ultimately, they may secure an open ended contract as an HE lecturer. In humanities subjects, some people follow a similar path or spend time as a temporary/part-time lecturer, although it is sometimes possible to move directly into an independently funded research role or full-time lecturing post immediately after completing a PhD.

Although some enter research after an undergraduate degree, most have at least a Masters degree, and frequently a PhD. Some research staff find positions which allow them to complete a postgraduate degree, part-time, alongside their research duties, an important route to consider if funding is difficult to find for full-time postgraduate study.

There are many more people taking PhDs and in research roles than there are vacancies each year for HE Lecturers. It is an extremely competitive job market, with researchers often needing to establish a national and international reputation for their research before securing a job as an HE Lecturer. This commonly includes being prepared to move to different universities, often in different countries.

Most research staff work on fixed term projects. This often entails searching for new projects to work on every 1-5 years, which may include changing universities. This lack of security and constant change is a key challenge of working as a researcher.

HE administration - Getting in

Administrative and managerial staff in universities come from a wide range of educational backgrounds. Entry requirements vary according to the role, professional qualifications may be required for some. Postgraduates and research staff looking for alternatives to academia may be attracted to university administration, as they are familiar with how universities operate.

HE administrative jobs are advertised on the website of the individual university and possibly in the local press. Positions are usually only advertised nationally if they are very senior or specialist. At the University of Manchester the policy is for jobs to be advertised to existing staff first and only if a suitable internal candidate is not found will a position be advertised externally. If you are interested in general positions it can therefore be a good idea to consider applying for entry-level positions or short-term contracts to get a foot in the door, whereupon you could gain access to internal opportunities.