UK academics are among the poorest in the developed world, according to a study by lecturers' union Natfhe.
They earn on average £50,000 a year less in pay and benefits than their counterparts in Canada and Italy, and almost £30,000 less than their UScolleagues, according to the union. Among Europeans, only academics in Greece, Turkey and the Czech Republic are paid less than the British, says Natfhe.
The United Kingdom comes tenth in a league table that compares the pay of university teachers and researchers in 15 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. The data are based on academics' relative purchasing power, factoring in tax regimes, living costs and exchange rates, taken from the OECD's purchasing price index.
Natfhe found that, in 1998, UK average academic pay (including part-time and contract staff) was £21,800, compared with £72,700 in Canada, £72,400 in Italy and £56,100 in the US. The UK beat Mexico, where average pay is £18,400 and Japan, at £18,200, as well as Turkey and the Czech Republic.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, said the sector was heading for a staffing crisis. "Poor pay is jeopardising universities' ability to attract and retain world-class academic staff. Compared to the earning power enjoyed by most of their peers worldwide, UK academics are the poor relations."
In some subjects, such as chemistry, physics and education, more than half of all staff will retire within ten years, Natfhe said.
Mr Mackney warned that the crisis could scupper government plans to widen access and ensure that 50 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds experience higher education by 2010. "Students have to be confident that they'll get the excellent teaching and support needed to see them through to a high-quality qualification."
The pay study forms part of Natfhe's submission to the government's comprehensive spending review. Natfhe says that £675 million is needed to reform university pay, tackle gender discrimination and increase staffing levels to cope with expansion targets.
International comparisons of academic pay in 1998
Canada £72,700 Germany £24,800 Italy £72,400 United Kingdom £21,800 United States £56,100 Greece £20,800 Finland £47,100 Mexico £18,400 Australia £39,900 Turkey £18,200 France £34,500 Japan £16,500 Norway £31,200 Czech Republic £11,500 Spain £24,900
Note : This table shows the purchasing power of average academic pay relative to that of the UK. NATFHE derived all figures for this table from official OECD statistics. Previous comparisons of academic pay have suffered from the fact that tax regimes, exchange rates, social benefits and living costs vary greatly. Hence gross pay comparisons are little guide to relative purchasing power. The above table corrects for this by using the OECD Purchasing Price index, which takes benefits, taxes, exchange rates and living costs into account. It covers all teaching and teaching/research staff in tertiary level institutions, including part-time and fixed term staff.