The fact that ethnic minority staff are eight times less likely to receive discretionary pay compared with their white colleagues at Newcastle University is not necessarily a sign of racial discrimination, according to Sudipta Roy. This summer, she was appointed professor of electrochemical nanomaterials at the university.
She argued that the figures were likely to reflect a reluctance among ethnic minority staff to make an application for the awards in the first place.
"The question I would ask is why people aren't applying for these pay increases," she said. "I have never personally done so - perhaps it is a cultural thing."
Professor Roy said that an application for discretionary pay involved lots of paperwork, and most academics were not financially motivated but were more interested in status.
"Every time I have applied for promotion during 11 years at Newcastle I have received it," she said. "I have never encountered any difficulties."
She said one thing that university managers could do more of, however, was to promote how much discretionary awards could be worth, since they often mean thousands of pounds extra in annual salaries.
Professor Roy, who has chaired the university's racial equality committee, said that one of the biggest hurdles was attracting ethnic minorities to university life. "There is a perception that the academic career path is very daunting," she said.
A spokesman for Newcastle said that in 2005, 13 per cent of all the university's promotions went to staff from ethnic minority backgrounds, who make up 8.6 per cent of all staff.
One reason put forward for the discretionary pay gap was that many ethnic minority staff are recruited from overseas as postdoctoral researchers at the university - positions that do not include extra pay points.