British pay ranked mid-range, but future looks 'encouraging'

Global salary survey places Saudi Arabia top and China bottom amid wide variations, writes John Gill

November 27, 2008

Academic salaries vary markedly from country to country, a new report has found.

The analysis of pay across 15 countries shows that average earnings are five times higher in Saudi Arabia, which has the best salaries, than in China, which has the worst.

The disparity is all the more significant as the figures are calculated to take living costs into account, making them directly comparable.

The salaries of academics in the UK, meanwhile, are shown to be distinctly middle-of-the-road compared with rival sectors worldwide.

The average monthly salary levels range from $1,182 (£785) in China to $6,611 in Saudi Arabia. The international average is $4,050 a month. In the UK, academics earn $4,343 a month, but in Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, academics are better paid than they are in the UK.

But it is not all bad news as the report, by the Centre for International Higher Education at Boston College in the US, identifies a number of "encouraging" trends in the UK.

These include marked increases in starting salaries for lecturers, growth in top-level positions and good employment benefits.

The report comes in the wake of a claim by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association that higher education staff in the UK have enjoyed some of the best pay deals of any sector in recent years, up more than 30 per cent since 2001.

Despite this, the UK does not top any of the categories in the global comparison, sitting in fifth place for entry-level pay, seventh for top-level pay and sixth for overall average.

Salaries for entry-level lecturers vary from $682 per month in China, at the bottom of the scale, to $5,206 in Canada, at the top, while the UK average is $3,345.

Salaries for top-level academics vary from a high of $8,490 a month in Saudi Arabia to a low of $1,845 in China, compared with an average of $5,589 in the UK.

The study also says that, whereas in the US there is an expectation that career academics will reach the rank of professor, in the UK only a small number climb to the top rung.

However, it notes that the UK outpaces the US in salary progression, with increases of 67 and 61 per cent, respectively, between entry-level and top-level pay.

These figures are significantly higher than in France and Germany, where average pay increases were just 40 and 39 per cent, respectively. However, they are lower than in ten of the 15 other countries studied.

The higher salaries in developed countries compound the difficulties less wealthy regions face in improving their university sectors.

"If salaries at home cannot compete with overseas employment offers, brain drain will continue to beleaguer many already struggling poorer nations," the report warns.

However, it also says that academic earnings in some more developed countries are not much higher than the average income across all sectors. It says that this also risks driving top talent away from a career in higher education.

Philip Altbach, director of the Centre for International Higher Education and one of the report's authors, said: "We were surprised to find that in all the countries included (in the survey), the full-time professoriate could live on their academic salaries.

"We also learnt that salaries are, in many countries, only part of the compensation of academics - consulting, special research payments and allowances of various kinds add to remuneration, but we had no way of including such payments."

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