Boom time for high-flyers

March 17, 2006

Claire Sanders investigates a claim that the bulk of Hefce cash to reward staff has gone to RAE research stars

The number of academics earning more than £100,000 a year has increased by 169 per cent in the past three years, according to a survey by The Times Higher .

In 2001-02, just 848 academics earned more than £100,000. But in the past academic year, the figure was 2,9, with 78 academic super-earners paid more than £200,000.

In all, 6,382 staff earned over £70,000 in 2004-05. Additional figures from the Association of University Teachers show that in 2003-04 one in ten academic staff earned more than £50,000, compared with just over one in 20 in 2001-02.

The emergence of a significant cadre of academic high-earners has been fuelled by the increasing pay awarded to top medics and academic high-flyers in business schools. But the unions say that many administrators now also earn above £70,000 a year.

The unions also insisted that the pay rises had been at the expense of lower paid staff and were largely due to the research assessment exercise.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the AUT, said: "The key driver in this is likely to be the scramble to recruit research stars in the run-up to the 2008 RAE. It is another example of how the RAE is distorting the academic career structure."

She added that the figures provided further evidence that much of the Pounds 880 million provided to English universities through the Higher Education Funding Council for England's rewarding and developing staff initiative had gone to high earners.

Andy Pike, national officer for higher education at lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "I am sure that higher paid academics are delighted with their salaries. But they are supported by an army of hourly paid lecturers who provide teaching at low cost, freeing cash for the RAE stars."

He added: "Last year, starting salaries for researchers at new universities were as low as £13,000. These pay scales have been appalling for many years, forcing academics to claim income support if they are to survive."

He said that the average academic salary was £35,773.

But a spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association insisted that the average academic salary was £40,657 and said that the average earnings of academic staff had risen by 20 per cent since 2001.

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of Ucea, said the new pay framework being implemented by universities would benefit all academics.

"These new structures are likely to increase pay for higher education staff by an average of between 4 per cent and 6 per cent on top of whatever pay increases are negotiated this year," she said.

Mr Pike agreed that the framework would improve the situation but added:

"Staff have been waiting since August 2004 to see it implemented. Most academics have not seen any improvements."

The universities with the highest number of top earners are those with medical schools. University College London tops the table with 453 staff earning more than £70,000. Imperial College London comes some way behind with 355 high earners and then King's College London with 290.

Only 14 universities or colleges of higher education had no member of staff earning more than £70,000. The figures largely exclude vice-chancellors. As The Times Higher reported last week, vice-chancellors have seen their pay rise 25 per cent in the past three years, and the average vice-chancellor salary is £150,000.

Universities with medical schools pointed out that much of the increase in the number of staff earning more than £70,000 was due to the implementation of the new National Health Service clinical consultant contract.

A spokesman for UCL added that staff across the college benefited from good pay and that the new pay framework would benefit the lower paid in particular. "Through the implementation of the pay framework, salaries of early career lecturers and researchers will increase in May by 15 per cent, manual worker salaries by 7 per cent and the minimum of the senior lecturer-reader scale will increase by 6.3 per cent," he said.

A spokesman for Imperial said: "Imperial was one of the first institutions to implement the new national pay framework and has also established local pay bargaining that, for the past two years, has enabled a higher level of pay award across the college than for the rest of the sector."

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk </a>

'WE NEED SERIOUS WAGES'

"I earn £14,372 and I'm a single parent with two children. I cannot get a mortgage and I really struggle. I'm a full-time researcher in applied science at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, on a permanent contract. I came late to academia as a mature student and hope to pursue a research career but the salary is offputting. This is not a living wage. There is too much inequality among academic researchers."

Anonymous female researcher from Wales

"I earn £20,300 as an education researcher at London Metropolitan University. I am in my mid-20s and on a fixed-term contract. I have been able to secure a mortgage only by asking my father to act as a guarantor. Not enough is being done for those at the bottom end of the pay scales. It is frustrating and my enthusiasm for an academic career is beginning to waiver. I could earn much more in the private sector."

Anonymous female researcher from London 

"Universities have to pay serious wages if they are to attract top academics. I earn £46,000 as a reader at Imperial, but I double that through consultancy work. I specialise in work on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Imperial has one of the best departments in the world on infectious diseases - and it is important that the college can offer salaries to attract global candidates. It is also important to remember that academics have to move about a lot."

Mark Enright, reader in molecular biology at Imperial College, London

PAY GIANTS

* The London Business School has 16 staff earning more than £200,000 - more than any other university - with one on more than £400,000. Last year it had two in this bracket

* St George's Medical School has the second highest number of staff earning more than £200,000 - with 11. The principal earns £180,000

* At Aston and London Metropolitan universities, the vice-chancellor earns about £90,000 more than the highest earners

* At the University of the West of England no academic earns more than Pounds 100,000; the departing vice-chancellor earned £189,000 in 2004-05

* Oxford and Cambridge Universities each have one academic earning more than the vice-chancellor.

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