UK universities among those spending smallest share on staff

Data in OECD’s Education at a Glance shows large variation in proportion of current expenditure being spent on teachers and support staff

September 11, 2018
Female lecturer teaching

Japan, the UK and Australia spend among the lowest proportions of day-to-day spending in their universities on staff, according to the latest batch of education figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Data in the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2018 show the breakdown in the share of current expenditure that nations spend on staff and on other activities, such as student services and the maintenance of facilities.

According to the figures, Italy spends the smallest share on staff (57.9 per cent), followed by Japan (59.4 per cent), South Korea (59.5 per cent), Hungary (61.8 per cent), Australia (62.4 per cent) and the UK (63.2 per cent).

At the other end of the scale, Greece spends the highest share of its current expenditure on staff in tertiary institutions (88.8 per cent), followed by France (80.3 per cent) and Belgium (75.8 per cent). The OECD average is 68.4 per cent.

For some countries the report also offers breakdown of “teaching staff” – defined as any that are involved in the direct instruction of students – and non-teaching staff, such as administrators and university leaders.

Out of the major nations where the data are available, the US has the lowest share spent on teaching staff at the tertiary level (29.7 per cent) and one of the largest on non-teaching staff (34.7 per cent).

The University and College Union – which is balloting members about whether to take strike action in the latest pay dispute with managers – drew attention to the UK’s figures, saying a recent survey of students showed they wanted to see more fee money spent on teachers.

“Students at UK universities are paying some of the highest tuition fees in the world but this simply isn’t translating into spending on the workforce,” said general secretary Sally Hunt. 

“UK institutions’ proportional spending on staff is failing to match that of many international competitors, even though students have clearly said that this should be a priority for how their tuition fees are spent.  

“Universities need to recognise that staff are their most important asset and ensure they invest in them properly – that starts with a fair pay offer.”

Notes accompanying the OECD data do point out that in some countries, “tertiary institutions may be more likely to rent premises, which can account for a substantial share of current expenditure”.

The report adds that differences in shares spent on non-teaching staff may also reflect “the degree to which non-teaching education personnel…are included in the category”.

“Compensation of staff involved in research and development at the tertiary level may also explain some of the differences,” it states.

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