Competition is forcing universities to offer more professorships and improve pay. Tony Tysome reports
Career opportunities for ambitious academics are brighter than ever as the number of professors in UK universities continues to rise steeply, new figures show.
Over the ten years up to 2005-06, the number of full-time professors in the sector climbed by 63 per cent to more than 15,500, while the proportion of academic staff in full-time professorial posts rose from 7.5 per cent to 9.4 per cent.
The figures, supplied to The Times Higher by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, reflect a concerted effort by institutions to reward and attract high-flying staff and rising stars as competition grows for the best academics nationally and globally.
But they also show that women and black and minority ethnic staff are still poorly represented in the top academic grades.
The proportion of professors who are women is 17 per cent, although this is up from 8.5 per cent ten years ago, representing an increase in the number from 810 to 2,590 (a 220 per cent increase). Black and ethnic academics make up 5.8 per cent of professors.
Employers, academic union leaders and higher education analysts agree that the research assessment exercise is the key driving force behind the overall rise in the number of professors.
There is also emerging evidence that new promotion and pay incentives are being created as institutions review their professorial appointments criteria and grading structures in the light of the pay framework agreement.
Data gathered by the University and College Union show that nearly 40 per cent of institutions that have so far revised their professorial pay scales have set the bottom rung higher than the national minimum of £48,162.
Stephen Court, UCU senior research officer, said: "Institutions have used the framework to say 'we will offer better professorial rates than the university down the road'. Professors with very strong research track records now know they can come along with their teams and do very well."
Many believe that the changes will encourage ambitious young academics and postgraduate students who may be considering an academic career.
A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association said:
"This substantial improvement in career progression opportunities has contributed to significant increases in average academic salaries across the sector."
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Equality Challenge Unit, said there was still much more to be done to ensure that women and black and minority ethnic staff benefited as much as white male staff from the improving career prospects.
She said: "If institutions are looking to make their workforces more representative, then now is a good time to build this thinking into their strategies."