Career Advice

The Joys and Challenges of Working in Higher Education 

Higher education offers a wide palette of different roles. Whether you are looking to work in marketing, catering, administration, teaching, research or management, there is a stunning range of opportunities for you. Higher education is a growing sector. According to a report by Universities UK, the total number of staff at UK higher education institutions increased by nearly 13% between 2007 and 2017. With over 162 higher education institutions in the UK, the opportunities are endless for developing expertise in the sector.

The Joys 


Many people would agree that working in higher education is one of the most exciting sectors to be part of. How would we cope without doctors, scientists and engineers who all receive their education at universities? What would the world look like without world-changing scientific research which improves the quality of our lives day by day? 

Universities offer unparalleled opportunities to transform people’s lives and to be able to positively influence society.  You can create a meaningful contribution and support the development of the next generation. Your work will help others to expand their horizons, see the world through different eyes, and create exciting breakthrough innovations for a better world.  


People working in higher education tend to value lifelong learning as a skill. Universities recognise that developing their employees is paramount to growing their organisation. The list of learning and development opportunities are endless from face to face and online courses, coaching, mentoring and job shadowing to networking, conferences, and volunteering.  

New opportunities open up constantly to respond to emerging trends. Fantastic new jobs are created almost daily to respond to the fast-growing trend of online learning. If you are a quick learner and keen to broaden your skills, you will be able to take on refreshingly new projects and be involved in an emerging trend. 


Universities take the well-being of their staff seriously. More and more campuses offer a range of fitness classes, hobby clubs, women development programmes, counselling, medical and child care.  You might be surprised to discover that universities offer concerts, libraries, theoretical and cinema performances free or at subsidised fees.   


Responding to the fast-growing trend of flexible working, more and more organisations offer flexible working hours including remote working. lists hundreds of full-time, part-time, seasonal, term-time only and freelance positions. Most universities provide generous maternity and paternity leave, as well as outstanding holiday packages (in the region of 40 days a year). Universities promote inclusivity in terms of age, gender and culture, and these are strongly embedded in their recruitment and working processes. 

The Challenges 


Universities are complex with many layers of job roles and intricate hierarchies. Committees play a key part in approving major changes and decision making can be slow because of the number of individuals involved in the process.  Within large and complex universities it can sometimes be frustrating to deal with lengthy procedures. But if you can be patient and keep looking towards the outcome, your passion for the work makes up for it. 


Working in higher education, you may or may not immediately see tangible results of your work. As a lecturer, you may realise what a fantastic difference your work has made when your students submit exceptional dissertations in their final year. As an events manager, you feel a sense of pride when conference attendees send you thank you notes and tell you what a well-organised and invaluable event you have put together. As a careers advisor, you may only learn years later what an incredible difference your guidance made to a student’s career direction. Rest assured. Your work within higher education serves an important cause.  


People who specialise within very narrow fields may feel that opportunities dwindle the higher you aspire. After investing years of education and experience to get to where you are, you may end up with doubts over your chosen career. But there are so many opportunities to diversify in HE that one solution could be not to run away, but to reflect on how you can re-energise and reinvent your career.

Working in higher education is one of the most rewarding sectors you can be part of. It has an abundance of its own unique joys, as well as occasional challenges. It provides flexibility, learning and development opportunities, and wellbeing initiatives to employees. It is an area which contributes to building a successful society and developing future generations.  

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