In the UK, the term lecturer is ambiguous and covers several academic ranks. The key distinction is between permanent/open-ended or temporary/fixed-term lectureships.
A permanent lecturer in UK universities usually holds an open-ended position that covers teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities. Permanent lectureships are tenure-track or tenured positions that are equivalent to an assistant or associate professorship in North America. After a number of years, a lecturer may be promoted based on his or her research record to become a senior lecturer. This position is below reader and professor.
Research lecturers (where they are permanent appointments) are the equivalent in rank of lecturers and senior lecturers, but reflect a research-intensive orientation. Research lecturers are common in fields such as medicine, engineering, and biological and physical sciences.
In contrast, fixed-term or temporary lecturers are appointed for specific short-term teaching needs. These positions are often non-renewable and are common post-doctoral appointments. In North American terms, a fixed-term lecturer can hold an equivalent rank to assistant professor without tenure. Typically, longer contracts denote greater seniority or higher rank. Teaching fellows may also sometimes be referred to as lecturers—for example, Exeter named some of that group as education and scholarship lecturers (E & S) to recognise the contribution of teaching, and elevate the titles of teaching fellows to lecturers. Some universities also refer to graduate students or others, who undertake ad-hoc teaching for a department sessional lecturers. Like adjunct professors and sessional lecturers in North America, these non-permanent teaching staff are often very poorly paid (as little as £6000 p.a. in 2011-12). These varying uses of the term lecturer cause confusion for non-UK academics.
As a proportion of UK academic staff, the proportion of permanent lectureships has fallen considerably. This is one reason why permanent lectureships are usually secured only after several years of post-doctoral experience. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in 2013–14, 36 per cent of full- and part-time academic staff were on fixed-term contracts, down from 45 per cent a decade earlier. Over the same period, the proportion of academic staff on permanent contracts rose from 55 per cent to 64 per cent. Others were on contracts classed as "atypical".'