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United Kingdom, Academic Career Structure

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

Competitiveness: compared to many other European countries, the UK has a competitive academic structure and job market. Incentives to select the best candidates are strong: university autonomy is combined with the evaluation of academic performance. Check here for more.

Openness to non-nationals: universities are usually open to external candidates and non-nationals. In 2002-2003 the 23% of the total academic faculty was composed of non-UK citizens. The common use of English for teaching and research facilitates recruitment from abroad. Click here for more information.

Career progress: career advancement towards professorship positions is strongly influenced by one's publication record and, to some extent, teaching experience. Click here for more information.

Temporary/permanent positions: it is difficult to get a permanent position in the UK academia. About half of the positions available are given on the basis of fixed-terms contracts. For this reason, mobility within the system is quite high. At the same time, promotion can be dependent on the change of an institution or on being able to negotiate a higher scale at your own institution against an external offer. However, while it is true that many academic positions in the UK are temporary, the ratio of permanent positions is condired to be low when compared with the high level of permanent positions in a European context. At the same time, the very fact that relatively junior members of academic staff can get permanent lectureships soon after acquiring their PhDs is something that is unique for the UK academia.

Salaries: salaries are usually negotiated and fixed within the market. They may vary greatly from one position and university to another. See our section on salaries for more information.

Gender: like in many other countries, women's employment in the academia is concentrated in lower positions, suggesting the existence of a glass ceiling. Many women work part-time and on a temporary basis. For equal jobs, they tend to be paid less than men. Click here for more information.

Universities and research instititutions: by clicking on the single websites of UK Universities you will have information concerning vacancies, post-doc and research opportunities, and sometimes salaries.

Job postings: the most common references for academic job alerts for the UK are Jobs.ac.uk and The Times Higher Education Supplement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher Education in the UK

All universities in the UK are legally independent corporate institutions. The Department for Education and Skills is responsible for all universities in England. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland universities come under the respective devolved governments. Before 1992 there was a distinction between polytechnics and universities, but as a result of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, the UK has a unified system with 113 university institutions.

The university sector in the UK is largely dependent on funding from the research councils. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a method of assessing the research of British higher education institutions. REF is undertaken every 7 years on behalf of the four UK higher education councils. The REF evaluates departments' and universities' research potential (teaching is not included) and universities' funding is largerly dependent on the REF. The REF has a very strong influence on  the UK academia and due to its strong focus on impact, social sciences and humanities sometimes struggle to satisfy the REF's criteria. The current REF takes place in 2014, with the aim of assessing research that has taken place during the period from 2008 to 2013 inclusive. On december 20th 2013, the REF cycle ended and the first results are expected in January 2015. For this reason, 2015 should be a year with more job opportunities, as universities regain confidence. The new REF cycle starts in 2014.

The Russell Group is an association of 20 research intensive universities in UK and in 2004/05 these universities accounted for 65% of all UK Universities' research grant and contract income.

In the UK, student fees are paid for undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate education. These fees have been dramatically increased since the early 2000s (for more information on this, click here). In Scotland, no fees are paid for undergraduate studies for Scottish and EU students (to find out more on this, please click here). 

 

Career Curriculum 

  1. Ph.D. Candidate
  2. Postdoc/Research Assistant
  3. Teaching Fellow
  4. Research Fellow
  5. Lecturer A
  6. Lecturer B
  7. Senior Lecturer or Reader
  8. Full Professor

The average age for completion of a Ph.D. degree is 26-27 in the UK (which is very low compared to other European countries).

There is a variety of postdoc/research assitant positions. In some cases, this position stands for a post-doc that is affiliated to a specific project at an university or an institute. In other cases, it stands for Junior Research Fellow (JRF). JRFs are considered to be extremelly hard to obtain and there are available throughout the year (with peaks for JRF applications taking place in Septemebr-October-November period). JRFs are very often, but not always, awarded to the internal. There is a difference between a Research Assistant and Research Fellow as in the case of former, the researcher is less in control of the agenda. In general, JRFs and Research Fellow positions are more independent. Research Fellowships are open to non-nationals and are funded by different bodies, such as The British Academy and The Leverhulme Trust.

The tenure-track does not really exist in UK academia. However, the position of Lecturer A is already permanent, since there is an evaluation but this matters more in theoory than in practice. The initial period before the evaluation is like a probation.

Even though there is an emphasis on research at the UK universities, for career progression within one institutions teaching and admin work also play a role. 

Note: from the academic year 2006/7 the University of Warwick has changed the academic titles to the American system (Full Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor). 

 

Requirements for Positions

A Ph.D. degree is normally required for obtaining a lectureship. Postdoctoral training of at least one year is generally an advantage for applying for a Lecturer position, but not a requirement.  More recently, there is a tendecy of doing 3-5 years of postdocs before young scholars are able to obtain a position of a Lecturer or some other permanent position. However, it is also possible to be appointed Lecturer after the Ph.D. degree.

The step between A and B lecturer is a salary step and you can be appointed Lecturer B directly if your qualifications meet the standards required for this pay scale (defined by individual institutions/departments).

Once appointed a permanent Lecturer position there are three ways to be promoted: 1) by applying for a vacant position 2) being nominated for promotion by heads of department 3) applying for promotion under the internal career advancement system with the institution. Promotions are assessed and granted by an academic committee set up by the individual institution. Applying for promotion is the normal way to climb the career ladder. This can be done within one’s own institution but it is important to note that mobility between UK institutions is high and promotion is thus often obtained when applying for a higher position in another institution.

The requirements for promotion are experience in teaching and research. Professorships are normally not awarded unless you have published at least two books. Particularly important is the Research Excellence Framework (REF) which has increased the importance of research productivity in assessing faculty performance. Besides quality of work, promotions depend largely on the financial constraints of the institution.

All academic appointments involve requests for references, which are supposed to advocate rather than critically evaluate the applicant. A reference from a well known senior scholar is often an important part of the appointment process.

On overal, the UK system is very reactive since, if one position vacates, which is often due to great inter-university mobility, a new position opens almost immediatelly to cover for the vacated position. The succesfull candidate is usually the one who fits the particular need of the department at that particular point in time.

 

Research Career

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.

 

Barriers to Career Advancement

One of the main problems both for foreign candidates and UK citizens is the wide use of temporary fixed-term contracts in the UK university system. It is common to have a series of fixed-term contracts even within the same institution, and can be quite difficult to secure a permanent position. To obtain a permanent position you need well documented research and teaching experience. In terms of publications, candidates are expected to have a book contract and 2-3 articles in good journals. The main barrier for obtaining a permanent position does not seem to be the lack of qualified academics but rather a lack of positions established and offered by the universities. It is cheaper for the institutions to keep staff on temporary fixed-term contracts than to promote them to permanent lecturer level. Another barrier is the fact that young scholars are supposed to focus both on teaching and research and it is only the latter that matters in the REF, which is strongly focused on research and impact.With high teaching loads, young scholars are often not able to improve their research and publication record, while this is crucial for the REF.

The academic climate in the UK in general is largely REF (Research Excellence Framework) driven. To obtain funding it is very important for the institutions to prove reseach results and this affects the conditions and promotion opportunities for temporary staff. For individual scholars, it is becoming increasingly important to show the "impact" potential of your research e.g. show how your research matters for non-academic audience. However, since REF evaluation in cyclical (it takes place every 7 years), universities seem to be adjusting to the REF dyanmic. Hence, at the beginning of the new REF cycle in 2014 (the prevous REF cycle ended in December 2013 and evaluation results are expected in January 2015), some highly ranked universities are changing their focus. For example, academics at one of these universities are being told that what matters is teaching, since the money comes essentially from student's fees (they have also been asked to teach more). Most probably, this is going to change in two years time, when the next REF with its emphasis on publications will create different, more research-oriented dynamic. 

For specific rules and regulations about promotions it is important to consult the individual university institution.

The proportion of women in UK academia is increasing steadily and in 2014, it amounts to 45% of the academic workforce. As in other countries this percentage drops within the academic hierarchy and only 20% of the professors are female. In addition, women occupy less secure positions as contract staff and part-time positions, and often earn less than their male colleagues, even if grade and mode of employment are the same. For more information on this topic, please click here.

 

Job Security

Postdocs and assistantships are temporary posts. From Lecturer level most university positions are permanent. There is normally a probation period of three years for all permanent positions, after which the position is permanent but not tenured. This means that you are not secured promotion and also that you can loose your position if the department shuts down or funding runs out (although the loss of position due to redundacy is fairly rare).

A survey among Ph.D. graduates show that the main problem with an academic career is considered to be a lack of job security and promotion possibilities (ESRC 2005). This is reflected in the fact that 42% of academic staff in higher education are on fixed-term contracts (almost 70,000 people), 3% are paid by the hour and 55% hold permanent positions (AUT 2004). A survey among fixed term and hourly paid staff in 2006 came to the same conclusions (see 'Survey of Fixed Term and Hourly Paid Staff', Association of University Teachers 2006).

The Unions and the Higher Education Committee are taking steps to improve the conditions for the temporary staff and make permanent contracts the norm.

 

Contracts and Duties

Research and teaching assistants as well as Lecturers A (and B) are considered junior positions. Responsibilities are normally predefined tasks in research and/or teaching, usually under some sort of 'mentor' supervision.

For senior positions (senior lecturer, reader, professor), but also for lecturer position, there is additional responsibility for conducting and supervising research and/or teaching as well as administrative tasks. (Postdoctoral positions are few in the UK and usually part of a predefined research project. The title of research assistant is more widely used on this level).

The majority of academics are expected to do both research and teaching. In 2002-2003, 59% of the academic staff were employed to carry out both research and teaching, 32% were employed on research only contracts and 10% on teaching only contracts. In general there is a division for academic staff of 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% administrative tasks. In practice the division between research and teaching differs greatly between and within institutions in the UK (for instance Cambridge reports in 2003 that 64% of its academic staff are on research only contracts).

Broadly speaking there is a larger emphasis on research or research combined with teaching in the pre 1992 universities, whereas the proportion of teaching only staff is much higher in the post 1992 universities. (For a full list of the division for each institution see the report 'The Unequal Academy').

 

Sabbatical Opportunities

Most university institutions have rules and regulations for leave of absence. Although the guidelines differ from institution to institution it is the norm (at least in the research led universities) that paid sabbatical is granted for one semester every 4-5 years. Sabbatical time is expected to be used for research.

Maternity leave is 26 weeks with full pay.

See also the individual guidelines set out by the universities and the Career Break site.

 

Gross Salaries

Gross monthly salary levels from 2007, Essex University.

-

Start

Average

Max

Postdoc/Research Assistant

3.364 €/month
(2.289 GBP)

3.813 €/month
(2.586 GBP)

4.263 €/month
(2.901 GBP)

Lecturer (A)

4.135 €/month
(2.814 GBP)

4.766 €/month
(3.232 GBP)

5.398 €/month
(3.673 GBP)

Senior Lecturer (B)

--

--

--

Reader

5.240 €/month
(3.566 GBP)

5.842 €/month
(3.962 GBP)

6.445 €/month
(4.386 GBP)

Professor

6.075 €/month
(4.134 GBP)

6.353 €/month
(4.309 GBP)

6.632 €/month
(4.513 GBP)

Source: University of Essex

 

Gross monthly salary levels, London School of Economics.

Start

Average

Max

Postdoc/Research Assistant

3.520 €/month
(2.390 GBP)

 

Lecturer (A)

4.407 €/month
(3.001 GBP)

5.087 €/month
(3.454 GBP)

Senior Lecturer (B)

5.259 €/month
(3.581 GBP)

6.002 €/month
(4.075 GBP)

Reader

6.181 €/month
(4.209 GBP)

6.436 €/month
(4.370 GBP)

Professor

7.061 €/month
(4.808 GBP)

9.780 €/month
(6.640 GBP)

Source: Human Resources, London School of Economics*

*Please note that salaries at the LSE might not be very representative of the salaries at the UK universities, since they are relativelly high.

Note: Gross Salaries, tax is approximately 34% in UK.
Academic salaries depend largely on national negotiations but institutions retain some flexibility. The numbers from LSE are thus higher than the overall average in UK university institutions, whereas the salary levels from Essex provide an idea of the general salary level in most institutions. In general, professiorial salaries are negotiated individually and the salaries above thus only provide an idea but are very flexible and can be higher than stated here.

In most institutions there are restrictions to how much outside activity you are allowed to do. For instance at LSE in the case of full-time appointments, no outside work with other parties outside the School, or personal business activities may be undertaken without the prior permission of the Director (with certain limited exceptions).

Although salaries are usually negotiated, salaries for at least London-based universities are very similar and follow a very demarcated pay scale pattern of annual increases within each category. Additionaly, London-based universities have  the London weighting allowance , which increases the salaries of London-based academics by 5-10% per annum.

Junior Research Fellowships (JRF) range from 20.000-25.000 GBP a year, but can be as slow as 12.000 GBP. Some of them include subsidies for food and accomodation. Fonally, some research asisstantships are non-stipendiary.

 

Number of Existing Positions

 

Number of existing positions at UK institutions, 2006.

--

All Disciplines

Researcher

33,435

Lecturers

55,160

Senior Lecturers

26,200

Professors

14,480

Other Grades

31,358

Total

160,650

Source: HESA

According to University and College Union (UCU) Approximately 70,000 of these hold temporary contracts.

 

Internal Recruitment

There are no exact numbers for this. Generally it is widely reported that mobility between university institutions in the UK is high. However, Oxbridge PhDs are said to generally end up having a JRF at one of the two universities.

 

Accessibility for Non-Nationals

Compared to other countries the UK is generally very open to foreign applicants. There is a good tradition at most universities of welcoming a diverse pool of applicants. The use of English and the openness of the system make the UK very attractive for academics. With English as the official language the UK offer an accessible and attractive academic environment for foreigners.

The openness differs, of course, from institution to institution. In total in 2002-2003, 23% of the academic staff were non-UK citizens. However, Human Resources at LSE reports that in February 2007, 46% of the academic staff were international. The role of a gatekeeper seem less significant in many UK institutions compared to other European countries.

 

National Universities

 

Research Institutions

In the UK most research institutions are subdivisions of the universities and rarely separate units. Consult the individual universities for information on the research units that exist.

 

Academic Unions

 

Useful Websites

 

Info for History

 

Info for Economics

Info for Law

Please contact us or comment below if you can provide relevant information.

 

Info for Social and Political Science

 

Postdoctoral Information

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Websites for Job Postings

 

Sources

 

Special thanks to:

Ludivine Broch, Max Weber Fellow 2013/14

Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral, Max Weber Fellow 2011/12

Romy Ajoha, Human Resources, LSE

Alexandre Afonso, Max Weber Fellow, 2010/11

Antonella Ianni, Jean Monet Fellow, Economics Department, EUI 2006/07

Neil Walker, Professor, Law Department, EUI

Raya Muttarak, Max Weber Fellow, 2008/09

Page last updated on 24 October 2014