Working in Higher Education FAQ

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University students often fail to realize that it requires an enormous number of employees working in a huge range of jobs to enable a Higher Education institution to function. More than 300,000 people currently work in HE in the UK across more than 170 institutions. Some of these workers are doctoral graduates working in academic roles, while others are from an industry background working in professional positions. In HE there is a job suitable for almost anyone. This article will look at some of the questions commonly asked about working at a university.

1. What job types are available?

2. What are the benefits of working in HE?

3. How well does pay compare to other sectors?

4. What issues are facing HE right now?

5. What qualifications are necessary for HE jobs?

6. What is the working atmosphere like at a HE institution?

7. Where can I find HE jobs?

What job types are available?

It takes a lot of people and even more organization to run a Higher Education institution. This leads to an incredible variety in the job types available in universities. The three broadest categories are:

Academic – lecturer, research officer, professor, head of department etc.

Administration – departmental administrator, events officer, course administrator, librarian etc.

Manual – estates, cleaning staff, catering staff, porter etc.

Higher Education is perhaps the only employer that has such a variety of staff under one roof. This variation produces opportunities that other employers can’t offer in terms of career development or career changes.

Higher Education is predictably the key employment destination for PhD qualified job hunters. Research and lecturing is not the only way to stay in the world of HE for doctoral graduates, however. There are many challenging and exciting jobs in support roles, such as student services, marketing, administration and others, that are attracting PhD qualified applicants.

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What are the benefits of working in HE?

A lot has been written on our Career Development site about the benefits of employment in universities. From an academic perspective, a career in HE offers support, flexibility and resources that few other employers can offer to researchers. This, coupled with many ways to develop your career and profile, makes university work ideal for those involved in research.

From a non-academic point of view, Higher Education offers a great variety of career opportunities and career development through training, secondment and breadth of experience, among other things. HE also offers generous holiday entitlements, is considerate of flexible and part time work, and has other benefits such as pensions and maternity and paternity allowances.

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How well does pay compare to other sectors?

Within the public sector, HE staff have received the highest increases in pay in recent years. Salaries for administration and support staff are respectable, although private sector companies generally do offer more in terms of up-front salary.

Likewise, the salaries on offer in the private sector for doctoral graduates are comparatively higher. However, academic work at university, by most people’s testimony, offers challenges and rewards that cannot be found in the private sector.

Beyond the salary, employment in HE offers monetary benefits in terms of final pension schemes and liberal paid holiday allowance.

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What issues are facing HE right now?

In an area as diverse as Higher Education, there are always multiple issues to be faced. One thing worrying academics right now is the fierce competition for lecturing and research positions. Young academics and recent graduates are finding the job market a grueling place, and those lucky enough to land jobs are often on fixed-term contracts.

Other issues include the rising number of students at both postgraduate and undergraduate level. Workloads have increased and more is expected of staff. At the same time, academic staff must increase their research profiles, find ways of implementing technology to improve the student experience, and obtain research funding.

For universities as a whole, there is the issue of balancing financial needs and goals with academic output and research objectives. Across the board, staff are concerned with achieving targets, improving such things as equality and diversity, and delivering a better service to students through the use of technology and increased customer care.

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What qualifications are necessary for HE jobs?

Academic jobs are usually open to doctoral graduates only. Therefore, a PhD is considered necessary for most research and lecturing posts. In addition, a record of publications and a strong research profile will help supplement your formal qualifications.

There are other ways into lecturing, however. Industry experience is often valued by universities, as this article shows.

The qualifications required for non-academic roles depend on the type of job. Administrative posts normally require a strong education (to A level standard) and a professional qualification, such as a HND, or experience. Technical and manual posts often require related professional qualifications and licenses. Graduates are preferred for many jobs, however, as they have some experience of academic life, which helps when you are working at a university.

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What is the working atmosphere like at a HE institution?

Many universities have a unique atmosphere, if only because of the sheer size and diversity of some institutions. Throughout HE, policies are in place to encourage work-life balance, equality and diversity, and career development. The vibrant intellectual nature of Higher Education institutions means that they are constantly looking forward.

Universities are also concerned about making money, however, either through research funding, contributions, student fees, third-stream activities, or subsidiary companies. All of this has put a lot of emphasis on bringing in the green, and while HE institutions are still a far cry from the commercial nature of the private sector, there is a business-like atmosphere.

Most employees enjoy working in HE, and job satisfaction is relatively high. Have a look at our case study pages for some first hand accounts of what it’s like to work at a university.

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Where can I find HE jobs?

Hopefully, this is your next question after reading the above answers. The best place to start your search is right here. is the most popular academic jobs board in the UK, advertising positions for all of the major HE institutions as well as an increasing number of overseas universities. There are vacancies in every line of work throughout Higher Education. Browse our job pages, and have a look at some of the key employers who advertise with us here.

If you have another question about working in HE that you want us to answer, please send us an email and we will try our best to respond with the appropriate information.


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