French professors fall short in global salary comparison

Civil servant status and national pay scales mean senior academics earn less than peers elsewhere

March 28, 2017
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University professors in France are paid far less than their peers in other countries as state bureaucracy prevents top researchers from negotiating higher salaries, new analysis suggests.

While most senior academics in France enjoy “almost total job security” thanks to their “lifetime positions”, professors are significantly underpaid compared with chairs in the UK, Germany and the US, according to a new study by Johannes Angermuller, professor of discourse at the University of Warwick, published in the journal Higher Education.

Comparing publicly available salary scales, Professor Angermuller highlights a huge pay deficit faced by French university professors in comparison with their international peers.

“After taxes and charges, full professors should expect at least £40,000 in the UK, €40,000 [£34,668] in Germany and $50,000 [£40,164] [in US state universities], but (theoretically) they can receive just over €30,000 [£26,001] in France,” explains Professor Angermuller, who is also a member of the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, a grande école that is part of Paris’ PSL Research University.

Those at the top of end of professorial salary scales, which can hit about £120,000 at some UK universities, will also find limited financial rewards in France, says the study, which is titled “Academic careers and the valuation of academics: a discursive perspective on status categories and academic salaries in France as compared to the US, Germany and Great Britain”.

“It is not uncommon to see some net salaries of senior academic staff rise to £60,000, €80,000 and $200,000 [in the UK, Germany and US] respectively,” explains Professor Angermuller.

“The situation is different in France, where…end-of-career professors’ [salaries] rarely exceed €60,000,” he adds.

Professor Angermuller, whose research is funded by the European Research Council, blames the limited earning power of French professors on the massive influence of the country’s state bureaucracy, in which “most academic staff are civil servants and almost all are paid by the central government following a single national salary system”.

Other factors also limited the salaries of French professors, the study says. For instance, French universities typically do not have strong deans or heads of departments who might be encouraged to recruit strategically on behalf of an institution, which would create a transfer market and higher wages for professors.

Meanwhile, the “relative absence of an inter-institutional job market”, thanks to a job-for-life culture, means there is little appetite to lure researchers from rival institutions on better terms, the study adds.

“In the absence of salary gaps between [institutions], which may force decision-makers to take candidates from outside more seriously, decision-makers tend to stick with local and well-connected candidates,” it explains.

While some critics might attack the limited earning potential of French professors, who often hold academic positions at more than one institution, there are some positive aspects to the French system, Professor Angermuller argues.

“There is a high degree of relative institutional equality between junior and senior staff, democratic inclusion in decision-making and job autonomy and security of both junior and senior members,” says Professor Angermuller, who adds that “salary spreads as well as the number of precarious, non-standard contracts [are also kept] down” by the French arrangements.

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