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In the United Kingdom a lecturer is usually the holder of an open-ended position at a university or similar institution, often an academic in an early career stage, who teaches and also leads or oversees research groups. However in the United States, Canada and other countries influenced by their educational systems, the term is used differently and generally denotes academic experts without tenure who teach full- or part-time but who have few or no research responsibilities within the institution where they teach. In most research universities in the United States, the title of lecturer requires a doctorate or equivalent degree.
A lecturer in UK universities usually holds an open-ended position that involves carrying out both teaching and research. After a number of years, a lecturer may be promoted and become a senior lecturer. This position is below reader and professor.
It is also common for temporary lecturers to be appointed to cover specific short-term teaching needs; these positions are by-definition fixed-term and non-renewable and should be clearly distinguished from open-ended lectureships. Some universities also refer to graduate students or others who undertake ad-hoc teaching for a department as lecturers or sessional lecturers. Some are very low paid (as little as £6000 p.a. in 2011-12). This can cause confusion, especially for academics from outside the British system, since it is important to understand in exactly which sense the term lecturer is being employed. Even more confusion can be caused by certain titles such as research lecturers, which when open-ended, are the equivalent of full lecturers and senior lecturers, but reflect the research-intensive tilt that is often seen in fields such as medicine, engineering, biological and physical sciences. Lecturers/ University Lecturers are more common in fields where faculty distribute their time equally between teaching and research. Teaching fellows may also sometimes be referred to as lecturers - for example Exeter adopted a family of education and scholarship lecturers (E & S) to recognise the contribution of teaching and thus elevate the titles of teaching fellows to lecturers. All this cause immense confusion for non-UK academics.
The position of open-ended lecturer does not map easily onto the American system. In terms of responsibilities and recognition, the position of a newly appointed lecturer is similar to that of an assistant professor, but many lecturers are experienced researchers with many publications and their position is more equivalent to that of an associate professor in the North American universities and international universities that are modelled on the US higher-education system. The simplest rule of thumb is if someone has an open-ended position, is termed lecturer, reader or professor and can form a research group, can apply for externally funded research as a principal investigator and also teaches, then these positions are equivalent to the assistant/associate/professor systems of North America (although as mentioned elsewhere some lecturers may be equivalent to professors. In traditional universities such as Oxford, professors are those who lead a group of other academics, equivalent to chairs - thus everyone else is a lecturer).
Historically, a senior lectureship reflected prowess in teaching or administration rather than research and was far less likely to lead direct to promotion to professor. However, nowadays promotion to senior lecturer is based mainly on the demonstration of significant research achievements, at least in research-intensive universities, and is an integral part of the promotion path to a full chair. Promotion to reader is sometimes still necessary before promotion to a full chair, however, some universities no longer make appointments at the level of reader (for instance, the University of Leeds and the University of Oxford). Senior lecturers and readers are sometimes paid on the same salary scale though in many departments readers are comparatively senior staff. Readers in pre-1992 universities are generally considered at least the equivalent, in terms of status, of (full) professors in post-1992 universities, and many academics consider it more prestigious to be a reader in a pre-1992 university than a professor in a post-1992 university.
Most open-ended lecturers in the UK have a doctorate and often have postdoctoral research experience. In many fields a doctorate is now the prerequisite although historically this was not the case and some academic positions could have been held on the basis of research merit alone without a higher degree.
The new universities (that is universities that were until recently termed polytechnics) have a slightly different naming scheme from that just described, in which the grades are lecturer, senior lecturer and principal lecturer, with the last corresponding to senior lecturer in the pre-1992 institutions.
The University of Warwick decided in 2006 to use the terminology assistant professor for lecturer, and associate professor for senior lecturers and readers. It was claimed that this was to make it easier to appoint staff from the US despite the fact that assistant professor generally refers to a non-tenured position in the US while at Warwick it is an open-ended position (subject possibly to probation)., and that both readers and professors in the UK would correspond to professors in the US Nottingham has also adopted the same convention. At Reading job advertisements and academic staff web pages use the title associate professor, but the ordinances of the university makes no reference to these titles and gives only procedures for conferring the traditional UK academic ranks.
There is no US-style concept of tenure or faculty in the UK, and lecturing staff on open-ended contracts can be made redundant like employees of any other organisation. In 2012 this began to happen more often, notably at Queen Mary university which now has a stated policy of firing and replacing underperforming open-ended teaching staff. The distinction between teaching and research staff is blurring, with many researchers doing occasional lecturing work and also securing legally equivalent open-ended contracts at some institutions as a result of the 2008 Ball vs Aberdeen tribunal decision.
Neither of the titles doctor or professor have any legal status in the UK, and anyone may use them as part of their name unless intending to deceive customers about their qualifications under trading laws.
A lecturer is typically an assistant curate serving in a Church of England parish. It is a historic title which has fallen out of regular use, but several churches in the UK still have clergy with the ancient title lecturer including many London churches, St. Mary's Church, Nottingham and Carlisle Cathedral.
The term lecturer is used in various ways across different US institutions, sometimes causing confusion. On a generic level, however, the term broadly denotes one who teaches at a university but is not eligible for tenure and has no research obligations. At non-research schools the latter distinction is of course less meaningful, making the absence of tenure the main difference. Unlike the adjective adjunct (which can modify most academic titles, from professor to lecturer to instructor, etc.), the title of lecturer itself at most schools does not address the issue of full-time v. part-time status. Lecturers always have at least a masters degree and quite often a doctorate. For example, at Columbia University the title of lecturer requires a doctorate or its professional equivalent and is the second highest ranking title (other than senior lecturer) in the special instructional faculty category, which includes "persons whose responsibilities are limited to offering instruction or who are otherwise participating as instructors in specialized programs" during a stated term. (Columbia University, Officers of Instruction, 2013)  Sometimes the title is used as an equivalent-alternative to instructor but schools that utilize both titles tend to provide relatively more advancement potential to their lecturers.
It is becoming increasingly common for major research universities to hire full-time lecturers, whose responsibilities are primarily undergraduate education, especially for introductory/survey courses that involve large groups of students. These tend to be the courses that tenure-track faculty do not prefer to teach, and are unnecessarily costly for them to do so (at their comparatively higher salary rates). When a lecturer is part-time, there is little practical distinction from an adjunct professor, since neither has the prestige of being on the tenure-track. For full-time lecturers, many institutions now incorporate the role quite formally with performance reviews, promotional tracks, administrative service responsibilities, and many faculty privileges (e.g. voting, use of resources, etc.).
One emerging alternative to the use of full-time lecturers at research-heavy institutions is to create a parallel professorship track that's focused on teaching, which may or may not offer tenure, with a title series such as teaching professor. This would be analogous to how some universities have research-only faculty tracks with title series such as research professor/scientist/scholar.
It should also be noted, however, that the title is sometimes, paradoxically, used in just the opposite sense: in some institutions, a lecturer especially "distinguished lecturer" may also refer to a position similar to emeritus professor. Also, in some schools it's a temporary post for visiting academics of considerable prominence—e.g. a famous writer may serve for a term or a year, for instance. When confusion arose about Barack Obama's status on the law faculty at the University of Chicago, the institution stated that although his title was "senior lecturer," that school actually uses that title for notable people such as federal judges and politicians who are deemed of high prestige but simply lack sufficient time to commit to a traditional tenure-track position.
In Australia, the term lecturer may be used informally to refer to anyone who conducts lectures at a university or elsewhere, but formally refers to a specific academic rank. The academic ranks in Australia are similar to those in the UK but there is one additional rank. The academic levels in Australia are associate lecturer (academic level: A), lecturer (B), senior lecturer (C), associate professor (D), and professor (E).
In other countries usage may vary unpredictably. For example, in Poland the related term lektor is a term used for a teaching-only position, generally for teaching foreign languages.
In France the title maître de conférences ("lecture master") is the lowest academic rank.
In German-speaking countries the term Lektor historically denoted a teaching position below a professor, primarily responsible for delivering and organizing lectures. The contemporary equivalent is Dozent or Hochschuldozent. Nowadays the German term Lektor exists only in philology or modern-language departments at German-speaking universities, for positions that primarily involve teaching a foreign language.
In Israel, the term is similar to that in the UK.
In Norway a Lektor is an academic rank, usually reached after three or five years of education, which enables a teacher to lecture at Ungdomsskole (secondary school) or Videregående skole (high school) level.
In South Korea the term "Gangsa" is the literal translation of "part-time lecturer". A Gangsa is usually part-time, paid by the number of hours of teaching. No research or administrative obligation is attached. In most disciplines Gangsa is regarded as a first step in one's academic career. In Korea the tenure position started from "full-time lecturer". The tenure position in South Korea is composed of "full-time lecture(JunImGangSa)", "assistant professor(JoKyoSu)", "associate professor(BuKyosu)" and "professor(KyoSu)". Therefore "full-time lecturer" is the same position as "assistant professor" in other countries, including the USA.
In Sweden and Denmark a Lektor is an academic rank similar to senior lecturer in Great Britain and associate professor in USA. The Lektor holds the position below professor in rank.
- University of London, Academic Promotion to Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor, Accessed 5 June 2011, 
- "Times Higher Education - The rise and rise of PhDs as standard". www.timeshighereducation.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
- For example David Fowler retired as a Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at Warwick in 1990 without a doctorate. See obituary in The Independent.
- Graham Webb, Making the most of appraisal: career and professional development planning for lecturers, Routledge, 1994 (page 30) ISBN 0-7494-1256-9
- Lee Elliot Major, "Get the drinks. It's professor all round", Times Higher Education, 31 March 2006
- Georgina Copeland, Warwick Mathematics Institute Vacancies (web page), Last revised 2 Jun 2011, Accessed on 5 June 2011
- "Section XI Election and Appointment to Professorships or Readerships or Senior Lecturerships". Ordinances of the University of Reading (2010-11). pp. 23–25. Retrieved 18 December 2011.