White academics are up to eight times more likely than their non-white colleagues to receive discretionary performance-related pay rises, according to research.
An Association of University Teachers study on universities' use of the discretionary pay points available to reward individual performance shows that on average white staff in the UK are 1.6 times more likely to benefit from PRP, which can be worth thousands of pounds extra a year. But the figures, revealed exclusively to The Times Higher ahead of next week's launch of an equality campaign, contain wide variations.
Newcastle University had the worst results, with white staff eight times more likely to get pay rewards. Exeter, where white staff are more than seven times more likely to gain, followed closely.
Ethnic minority staff had a better or equal chance of getting PRP at just four institutions, compared with 14 where white staff were more than twice as likely to gain the performance pay rise.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the AUT, said the figures were "deeply disturbing".
"Once again we find evidence of discrimination in higher education," she said.
"Employers have known about this for a long time. They must accept responsibility for such failures and take meaningful action to end pay discrimination in higher education. Sadly, I expect that all we will hear will be excuses, explanations and examples of spreading good practice. That is simply not good enough."
The AUT report will be unveiled at the launch of the Putting Equality in the Frame campaign, which is supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality and is designed to encourage employers to carry out proper equal-pay audits and race impact assessments.
In most universities, pay grades for academic staff have a number of additional discretionary pay points above the standard top point of the grade to reflect "special ability or special responsibilities". At senior lecturer level, for example, three discretionary pay points could mean the difference between £39,958 and £43,067 a year.
The AUT research, based on 2002-03 data, showed that in the UK 21 per cent of white staff were receiving discretionary pay, compared with 13 per cent of non-white staff. In England, white academics are 1.58 times more likely to gain the pay awards, compared with 1.85 times in Scotland, and 1.91 times more likely in Wales, where only 8.6 per cent of non-white academics are on discretionary points.
Jocelyn Prudence of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association said that although the data were two years old, they raised a "valid issue". She said the new pay framework reforms would establish equal pay.