Economics PhDs explain the lure of the private sector

June 25, 1999

Ravi Balakrishna has just completed an economics PhD at the London School of Economics and is about to take up a post at the Bank of England.

"It's unlikely that I'll be an academic in the future ... It's not just that the rate of academic pay is poor; what's actually very important now for economists is that there are a lot of opportunities if you go into the private sector with a PhD. That's had a big effect.

"The reason I'm doing what I'm doing is to keep my options open. I'll be getting some practical policy experience which will be useful whatever I do. Academic pay has fallen in real terms over the past 20 years, but the real point is that outside opportunities have increased massively. Even if academic pay increased, I don't think it would make a big difference."

Jonathan Gardner has one year left to complete his PhD at Warwick. He says he will be looking for jobs outside academia after that, "going into, say, policy institutes. They pay better than the academic world, and do interesting research. Or if I really wanted to go for money, I could look for a consultancy job.

"I actually like the academic life, the way you've got freedom to set your own work schedule. Academic salaries will never need to match professional salaries because of that advantage. But at the moment I think the differential is too great.

"Even if the salaries were a bit better I'm not sure I'd really want to become an academic. It's not just the publish-or-perish thing.

"My gut instinct is that there is going to be a lot more pressure put on the academic sector in the next few years with students saying they're paying for teaching, so increase its quality."

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