£130m needed to bridge pay divide

October 5, 2001

Institutions are doing little to give female lecturers pay parity with men. Tony Tysome reports

Universities have done nothing to close an £81 million gap between the pay of male and female academics, figures compiled by lecturers' union leaders show.

They have adopted an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude to the problem of unequal pay for women, despite agreeing to set up an equality challenge unit with national targets to improve the situation, lecturers' union Natfhe said this week.

Higher Education Statistics Agency data on pay for full-time academics analysed by Natfhe reveal that, on average, men are paid £2,190 more than women.

If the figures are not adjusted to take account of the fact that there are 76,060 male academics compared with 36,870 women, then the average difference is over £5,000.

The figures show that it would cost the sector nearly £81 million to bridge the gap, but Natfhe estimates this would rise to about £130 million if universities introduced equal pay for part-timers.

Tom Wilson, head of Natfhe's higher education department, said: "It seems as if the majority of universities are not doing anything to address this problem. We set equal opportunities targets in the spring, but as far as I know very few universities have done anything to implement them."

Natfhe's analysis of the figures shows that women on the first rungs of the academic ladder are paid on average about 3 per cent less than their male peers. This gap widens with age and in higher grades.

By the age of 51 to 60, women's pay has fallen an average of 14 per cent behind men's. A similar pattern emerges when looking at the pay of researchers. For female professors, there is a very small catch-up in average pay in the 51-60 age range, but a big drop after this leaves them 10 per cent behind their male peers.

The same kind of problems appear even in subjects such as education, where women have traditionally made up a larger proportion of the workforce. While women education lecturers are paid on average just 2 per cent less than men, the pay gap for female professors is 5 per cent.

Union leaders are hoping that the problem of compensating for career breaks for women with children, which is partly the reason for discrepancies relating to age, can be addressed in the forthcoming pay-bargaining and pay-spine talks with employers. Natfhe officials have suggested that a shorter incremental scale with fewer steps could be introduced to make it easier for women to catch up after a break.

But the figures also show there are other important factors at work influencing the gender pay gap, including local pay bargaining and different attitudes to pay and equal opportunities between subject areas and institutions.

Where pay is determined by local rather than national bargaining, the gender gap widens even further. The analysis shows that women between the ages of 31 and 60 get a worse deal in local bargaining than all others on national pay scales.

Mr Wilson said: "Where there is a national grade, people just march up through the levels, but where there is local discretion, that is where discrimination comes in."

In general, old universities are responsible for creating the biggest pay gaps, although there are exceptions in certain subject areas.

In administrative, business and social studies, for instance, Russell Group universities dominate the league table of institutions with the biggest gap in pay between male and female professors. But Keele University is the worst offender, with a 15 per cent gap, while Nottingham Trent and Southampton have a 14 per cent gap.

The subject group with the biggest pay gaps is medicine, dentistry and health, where the average gap rises from 6 to 7 per cent at lecturer and researcher levels to 19 per cent for professors. The University of Manchester tops the league table for the worst gap for professors in this area at 26 per cent, followed by Bristol University at 24 per cent and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at 21 per cent.

In some subject areas, such as architecture and planning and languages, women who reach professorial grades finally catch up with their male counterparts. In others, such as engineering and technology and biology, physics, and maths, they remain between 5 per cent and 4 per cent behind throughout the grades.

Andy Pike, a Natfhe higher education national official, said institutional cultures and structures were largely to blame for poorer conditions for women academics in the old universities.

"There is a lot of research that shows that men fare better than women in institutions with archaic structures that do not tend to have proper equal opportunities practices," he said.

Natfhe plans to use the figures to argue for additional cash from the government to boost academic pay as part of its submission to the annual spending review. But the union's leaders also say that the immediate challenge of bridging the gender pay gap, at a cost of just over 2 per cent of the total £3.5 billion pay bill, should not be seen as impossible by institutions.

Mr Pike said: "The fact is that in many cases there are so few women academics at the higher grades compared with men, since so many have been held back, that it would not cost individual institutions so much to rectify the pay gap.

"There is a sense in which institutions want to keep this out of sight and out of mind. They do not want to press this issue because they feel it will be expensive and embarrassing. But in the long run it is going to be more expensive and embarrassing to face a long series of litigations over equal opportunities and pay."

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, responded to Natfhe's survey: "Employers and unions have recently established new negotiating arrangements for higher education, charged with the task of addressing equal pay for work of equal value issues early. It's quite unfair to say no action's been taken. This working group was agreed at the end of June as part of the new framework agreement, negotiated over several months."

The Association of University Teachers welcomed Natfhe's analysis, which echoes an AUT survey in the summer revealing a 16 per cent gender pay gap.

Malcolm Keight, AUT assistant general secretary, said employers should tackle the issue when they meet at the end of this month.

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