The Benefits of Working in Higher Education in the UK

Oliver Drake

Oliver is recruitment specialist who specialise in recruiting to academic, research and university administration roles. Oliver has gained, over 20 year resourcing for the higher education in the UK and worldwide.

When you think of higher education, you may picture a staid world of crusty academics, lecture halls and laboratories. But with more than 160 HE institutions in the UK employing over 400,000 people, it is a dynamic and diverse sector ripe for job opportunities. Universities and colleges are vast and complex organisations that rely on many different staff types beyond teachers and lecturers. There is a job suitable for almost everyone. The following are the key benefits of working in higher education.

Good Salaries: A career in higher education won’t make you as rich as Midas, but you can enjoy a financially comfortable living. Although HE salaries are not as high as in the private sector, they’re among the highest in the public sector and above those in the third sector. According to figures supplied by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 56% of full-time academic staff had an annual salary greater than £45,892 in 2018/19.

Job Opportunities:  It takes a lot of people to run a university or college, and consequently, there are plenty of exciting career opportunities. HE institutions employ a wide variety of professionals, including trade positions (electricians, maintenance staff, plumbers and engineers), administration staff (secretaries, events coordinators and facilities managers), health and wellness professionals, IT support staff and marketing personnel. Currently, 439,955 staff are employed in higher education in the UK.

Secure Employment Even During Uncertain COVID Times: According to global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, around 7.6 million people, or 24% of the UK workforce, are at risk because of COVID-related lockdowns. As the world adjusts to the pandemic and its consequences, the employment outlook for the next few years is uncertain. 

However, the picture is not so grim in higher education. A post-coronavirus recession is expected to drive higher university enrolment as school leavers opt for degree courses rather than take their chances with a volatile job market. For the same reason, applications by mature students and graduates wanting to take postgraduate courses are set to rise. Although the number of overseas students is falling, this will be more than made up for by the increase in domestic students. The UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility predicts over 100,000 additional English-domiciled students in the next three years

Other factors contributing to a stable employment sector are that HE providers have adapted well to online teaching and learning and the growing societal need for highly skilled, socially engaged employees. By 2025, half of the existing jobs in European Union countries are projected to require high-level qualifications.

Job Satisfaction: Levels of job satisfaction in higher education tend to be high. Employees know they are part of something bigger, a stimulating environment that provides opportunities for others to reach their potential. Whether it’s lecturing, repairing computers or managing a residence hall, everyone can believe in the importance of what they’re doing. 

That being said, there is a business-like atmosphere in some institutions due to the pressure of having to earn money from private sources and solicit funding. Although not comparable to the commercial nature of private companies, some people may not enjoy being part of an institution run in part as a business. 

Excellent Benefits: Beyond the upfront salary, HE institutions typically offer an array of benefits. They include:

  • Holidays – generous holidays, which vary from institution to institution, individual length of service and salary grade. Typical annual leave entitlement is between 30 and 40 days per year.
  • Maternity/Paternity Leave – in addition to statutory maternity pay that is paid for up to 39 weeks, some institutions offer contractual maternity pay over and above the statutory rate. Paternity leave is also available after the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Childcare – universities strive to be family-friendly employers offering on-site nurseries and childcare vouchers.
  • Pensions – optional pension schemes are standard throughout the UK higher education sector. There are several such as the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) and the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS).
  • Perks – working in universities and colleges can also give you reduced-price access to their facilities such as sports centres, theatres, restaurants, cinemas and libraries.

Commitment to Equality and Diversity: Most higher education institutions have a progressive stance on equality and diversity regarding recruitment and working environment. However, while universities and colleges are cosmopolitan places, fewer than 1% of UK university professors are black. Of academic staff with known ethnicity, 17% are Black and Minority Ethnic, according to figures from 2018/19. This represents a 1% increase over the previous year. Of non-academic staff with known ethnicity, 12% are Black and Minority Ethnic, the same as the previous year. There is progress in this area, but it is sluggish.


If you’re considering a move into higher education, you can look forward to a richly rewarding career in an exciting environment that helps students grow and find their place in the world. Begin your search for a career in HE here.

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