A university lecturer is someone with one of several different possible positions at a college or university, the exact nature of which varies depending on where the person is lecturing. In the UK, for example, a lecturer is typically someone in an entry-level position at a university, similar to an assistant professor in the US. Lecturers in the US, however, are typically professors at universities who may not be full-time professors and are often not on a tenure track. A university lecturer can also be someone engaged in a special arrangement with a university for a short period of time.
The term “university lecturer” has fairly different meanings depending on where it is being used. In the UK, it is used to refer to someone who has begun the tenure track as a teacher and researcher at a university. A university lecturer in the UK is in a similar position to an assistant professor in the US, and is often working his or her way up toward a tenured position at that university. The lecturer position is followed by a position as a “reader” at the university, which is then followed by official professorship, at which point the professor likely has, or has nearly, attained tenure.
In the US, on the other hand, a university lecturer is often someone who teaches but is not on a tenure track and is not necessarily involved in research at that university. This title is used at some research universities and colleges for instructors who teach lower level classes, freeing tenured or research professors to focus on courses for graduate students. Depending on the college or university, however, a university lecturer can also be an instructor on a tenure track that does not involve research. These positions are somewhat unusual, but provide a career path for those teachers who wish to focus on instruction over research.
A university lecturer in the US can also refer to someone who is present at a university under a special arrangement. This is often used for a politician, famous writer, or distinguished legal professional who does not have time to teach on a long-term basis, but may be providing instruction for a single semester. A university lecturer in this sense is almost never on a tenure track and is only teaching or working at a university for a short period of time. This position can also be referred to as a “distinguished lecturer” or “senior lecturer” to separate such positions from “guest lecturers” who may appear for only a single day.