Moving into Higher Education From Public & Commercial Sectors

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Why work in Higher Education?

So, you’re currently not working in Higher Education (HE), but think you might like to. Perhaps you have only been aware of the stereotypes of exotic buildings full of bright academics and students dedicated to cutting-edge research and fascinating invention.

Of course, such generalizations don’t capture the detail and the great variety of jobs on offer in universities. In the last few years, many universities have sought to behave more like businesses and the private sector with targets and value-for-money the order of the day. As a result, they have sought to bring in expertise from other sectors to widen the depth and breadth of experience in their employees.  

What jobs are on offer in Higher Education?

Many universities can be more like small towns. This is particularly true of the larger campus institutions. But even with some smaller universities, there are a variety of jobs to be had. They all recruit to areas you’d find in any medium-sized or large organization such as finance, human resources, marketing, IT, and a wide range of roles under the general heading of administration.

What other jobs are there?

Administrative roles can be many and varied ranging from office assistants to managers heading up teams of 100s of people. Jobs also exist in areas of a university which are run like separate organizations because of their size or function. Examples include: business schools, medical schools, students’ unions, conference centres and sport centres. Most will advertise vacancies on the main university website, but others might use local media instead such as regional papers and websites. And even in these straightened times, they are all recruiting.

What are the advantages of working in Higher Education?

Universities have a high status; being part of an organization which has an impact on so many lives can be very rewarding. There is a real sense of community in being part of an organization whose main aim is to make a difference to people’s lives and, indeed, the world. It’s not surprising that in a recent survey at one university 96% of staff said they’d ‘go the extra mile’; they take pride in working for organizations which are held in high esteem. With some universities employing thousands of people, the opportunities for social and professional networks are impressive. Many facilities open to students are also open to staff including leisure facilities, crèches and some students’ union societies.

What are the employee benefits of working in Higher Education?

Universities tend to have rigorous employment and human resources (HR) policies and recognize a range of trade unions. Equal opportunities, diversity, staff development are all areas where there has been considerable development in recent years. And although the world of pensions is in a state of flux, universities still offer some particularly well-regarded schemes.

How do I make the best application?

Do your research. If the job you are interested in requires some knowledge of current HE issues, then have a look at the ‘Times Higher Education’ published weekly and the national newspaper and BBC websites under ‘Higher Education’. And don’t be put of by the jargon and acronyms; it doesn’t take long to get your head round them: think of it as part of your research.

But don’t wait for jobs to come up. If you have your eye on a particular university, make contact, ideally with the specific department you’re interested in. Some universities also recruit via agencies for all types of jobs, so find out from HR who they use.

And once I’ve landed the job?

You’ll have an induction programme, but make sure it delivers what you need. Universities love their own acronyms, jargon and, well, they do things differently. The sooner you ask for explanations, the quicker you’ll get on top of your job. And once though the door, the opportunities of professional development and working in other departments are considerable.


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