Building your visiting lecturer portfolio

When building a portfolio, you’ll need to start by finding which universities will enhance your reputation as a teacher.

Choosing a good teaching university

Teaching didn’t use to be the most important factor when students chose a university; reputation for quality research output was, until recently, the most significant factor. However, it appears prospective students increasingly put teaching quality above research, when choosing where to study (for example, see International Higher Education Report: Student Trends 2019).

So, you may have previously chosen to work somewhere with a good research reputation, because it looks good on your CV.

And you may have been right.

Here is a list of the top UK universities by the quality of their research:

However, when you compare the top research universities with the top teaching universities and you’ll see a different picture:

So, which university is better?

I can’t honestly say I know which is better for your career, but I suggest you consider the following when shortlisting universities:

  • Your future reputation: If you’re considering a teaching career in Higher Education, you’ll need to be good at it. You will likely benefit from working alongside colleagues (and at organisations) that have a good track record for teaching quality
  • Your teaching career: Having proven teaching abilities from a good teaching university will make it easier to find work as a lecturer elsewhere
  • The growing importance of teaching: Current UK government plans are to allow universities with better teaching to charge more. This is leading more research-based universities to look for excellent teachers to boost their teaching reputation

*There are several different measures of teaching quality in universities. I’ve used figures from ‘The Complete University Guide’ but would say that other measures are available. Clearly, none tell the whole story and should be used with caution.

Treat Visiting Lecturer work as a business

Done right, this approach can help you to be more selective and gives you greater control over your income. You can fit your work around other commitments (for example, late starts, working on evenings or over weekends are all possible).

It’s not easy money

It’s never going to be ‘something for nothing’ doing this work; although you might secure a relatively high hourly rate for lecturing (£50+ per hour is not unusual), you’ll be expected to do a great deal of hard work thereafter.

For every hour you are paid for delivering lectures, you must factor in planning, admin, marking etc.. This means the net hourly wage is closer to £17 than to £50. That’s still not a bad wage but it illustrates the full extent of the commitment you’re actually signing up to.

What does ‘treating visiting lecturer work as a business’ mean?

Working as a Visiting Lecturer means you are effectively working as an expert consultant*, because:

  • Typically, you’ll charge or be paid by the hour
  • You are in demand for your area of expertise (i.e. as both a subject expert and an educator)
  • You offer a confidential service
  • You dedicate yourself to prioritising your clients’ problems (university, faculty, school or research department) over your own
  • You’ll develop a network of clients
  • You’ll research and develop a your own niche in the market
  • You’ll treat your role as a business (which can save you money and bring many benefits)
Avoiding getting stuck in one organisation

Like all good consultants, you should aim to work for one university for as long as they want and need you**, while remaining open to new opportunities. This can be a little intimidating, but it is important because firstly, many organisations (particularly universities) are undergoing changes in their hiring practices – this can create uncertainty, including the possibility that you may well become expendable. Secondly, this is an attitude that develops your self-reliance, and will motivate you to find and maintain a range of long-term/rolling contracts at various organisations. It’s better to be lean and keen than to be glued to an organisation.

* Note: As a point of comparison you’re not there as a ‘Process Consultant’ – whose job would be to help the organisation improve their own capacity to make themselves more effective/efficient

** My experience has been that most consultants come to raise a bill, not standards

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David Fleetwood-Walker is an academic, writer, personal development coach.

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