Real-terms pay for UK academics still below 2010-11 salaries

THE analysis of Hesa data also shows that gender pay gap for professors remains stubborn

May 4, 2017
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Average pay for UK academics was still lower last year than in 2010-11 once the increased cost of living is accounted for, a Times Higher Education analysis has shown.

Figures on pay for full-time staff in UK universities show that academic staff were paid an average of £49,408 in 2015-16, while professors received an average salary of £79,030. 

For academic staff, this was 2.8 per cent lower than the equivalent salary, adjusted for 2015-16 prices, of £50,854 five years earlier. Each academic year since 2010-11 has seen a fall in average pay for academics in real terms, according to the THE analysis. 

The drop in real-terms pay for professors from 2010-11 to 2015-16 was 3.1 per cent, down from an average of £81,528 in 2010-11 (2015-16 prices), although professorial pay has kept ahead of inflation in the past two years.

The analysis comes as unions and UK universities are embroiled in the latest wrangle over annual pay rises, with employers having made a final offer of 1.7 per cent, plus additional increases for lower-paid staff. 

Reacting to the THE analysis, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that institutions were spending too much on capital projects and vice-chancellors compared with staff. “The time has come for universities to reassess those priorities and invest properly in their finest asset,” she said.

However, Helen Fairfoul, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea), said that her organisation’s own analysis of pay in higher education showed that it “remained in step with the wider economy and that pay for the range of jobs in the sector remains competitive”.

“Coupled with excellent pension schemes and other benefits, HEIs [higher education institutions] continue to offer an excellent total reward package,” she said.

THE’s analysis used Higher Education Statistics Agency data that reveal average pay for full-time staff at every institution in the UK.

As well as showing average pay in different types of role, the data are also broken down by gender, revealing that the overall pay gap between male and female academics was 10.53 per cent in 2015-16, a fall of 0.43 percentage points on 2014-15 and the fifth consecutive year that the gap has closed. 

For professors, the gender pay gap remained smaller at 5.83 per cent, but this represented a small increase on the year before of 0.06 percentage points. Some universities with the highest gender pay gaps for professors in 2014-15 also saw them increase more significantly. At City, University of London, the gender pay gap rose 1.5 percentage points to 10.5 per cent and at Swansea University it went up 1.3 percentage points to 13.1 per cent.

A spokeswoman for City said that as part of a programme of measures, it had introduced a banding scheme “to make it easier to identify and address any gender anomalies in pay at professorial level”. 

“An equal pay review was undertaken last year and further actions are being implemented to address gender pay issues, which are largely among the professoriate,” she said.

A Swansea spokesman said that more female academics were being promoted thanks to its work to tackle the issue, “with near equal proportions of men and women at senior lecturer and lecturer grades, and increasing numbers of women promoted to associate professor and professor”.

Essex pay uplift for female professors ‘did not go without challenge’

The director of human resources at a university that decided to give female professors a one-off salary hike in an attempt to wipe out the gender pay gap has described how the move was challenged by a male academic.

Susie Morgan said that the reaction to last year’s decision by the University of Essex, which followed a careful evaluation of the pay gap and the reasons behind it, had been overwhelmingly positive but had not escaped some scrutiny.

“I had one phone call from a young male academic…whose question to me, contextualised by him saying [that] he was very supportive of what we were doing…was [is] it not a discriminatory act?” Ms Morgan told Times Higher Education

“My response to that was that we saw this as a legitimate, objectively justified, positive action because we had done significant research into why there was a gap.”

Before announcing the pay uplift, the university had considered the possibility of the move being open to a legal challenge “but we were happy to defend our position if that situation had arisen”, she added.

Ms Morgan said that there had been impatience for change at Essex after internal research showed that once allowances were made for other factors influencing pay, such as length of service and performance, “the only reason that we could really find” for the pay gap was gender.

She said that over a longer period of time the gender pay gap may have been closed through measures that the university already had in place, but that the institution was not prepared to wait for the natural turnover of staff that might require.

However, she accepted that it had helped that Essex was a smaller university with enough money to make a one-off change in the pay structure. 

“We are, at the moment, a smaller university. Therefore, the financial consequences of [uplifting pay] were possibly more manageable than they would be if you had a massive professoriate or a massive workforce. You’ve got to be able to afford to do it.” 

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