A quarter of male academics - but just 9 per cent of women - are paid more than £50K. Melanie Newman reports.
The number of academic staff earning more than £50,000 a year has doubled in five years, the latest official figures show.
Twelve thousand academic staff belonged to the "Fifty Thousand Club" in 2005-06, up from about 6,000 in 2001-02, according to a report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of male academics were included in the "club", compared with just 9 per cent of female staff.
The Hefce report is based on figures released before the national pay deal agreed in 2006, which is worth 13.1 per cent over three years, and before the implementation of the national framework, which has also led to pay rises for many staff.
Apart from medicine and dentistry, staff in physics and maths are the most likely to take home high salaries.
More than a quarter (26 per cent) of permanent academics in these disciplines earned more than £50,000, compared with just 6 per cent in creative arts/design and education and 9 per cent in computer science.
The median salary for a professor last year was £59,670, for a senior lecturer £42,920 and for a lecturer £35,550.
Professors also did best in terms of increases in salary in 2004-05 and 2005-06: they enjoyed a 9 per cent pay rise followed by an increase of 3 per cent. Senior lecturers did less well, with an increase of just 3 per cent in 2004-05 followed by 2 per cent the following year.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the focus on relatively high-earning university staff might "be misleading".
"We would like to see more attention given to staff at the other end of the spectrum and to how pay is performing against inflation and other professionals. That would give a more realistic picture," Ms Hunt said.
Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: 'The report, highlighting the substantial increase in the number of higher-paid staff, mirrors Ucea's recent findings that the proportion of academic staff employed on higher grades increased significantly over the past decade - including the proportion of full-time professors rising from 10.9 per cent to 18.3 per cent."
The Hefce figures show that there is still a substantial gender pay divide. The median salary for a female academic in 2005-06 was £37,520, compared with £41,290 for a male. The gap was worst in biological sciences, where the median salary for a man was almost 18 per cent higher
than that for a woman.
The Hefce report also reveals rising numbers of non-UK nationals among permanent academic staff.
In 2005-06, there were 10,000 non-British citizens employed in English universities, up from 6,000 in 2000-01. Numbers of academics from Europe and Scandinavia and the East Asia all rose by a third in a year.