The Centre for International Business History

Relative Academic Pay

The knowledge based economy is seen as key to UK and European competitiveness. The provision and development of an internationally competitive higher education sector, with high quality teachers and researchers, is acknowledged as central to building such a "knowledge economy". To maintain the quality of higher education, it is obviously critical to attract a high calibre of worker into the sector. Whether HE is an attractive career option depends in practice on how the pay and non-pecuniary benefits of jobs in HE compare to other types of professional jobs elsewhere in the economy. In joint research with Anna Vignoles, from the Institute for Education, University of London, Dr Walker shows that Academics are underpaid and overworked compared with other graduate professions – and this is likely to have consequences for the quality of UK degrees. Media coverage of this work is contained in Guardian, 'For Love of Lecturing', Tuesday April 10th 2007; Financial Times, 'Pay Puts Quality of Academics at Risk', Tuesday April 10th 2007; Times Higher Education Supplement, 'Academics Hit Jackpot in Educational Careers Stakes', April 13th 2007, People Management, April 19th 2007.


The recent industrial action taken by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) has given the issue of academic pay high prominence in the UK press. There appears to be a remarkable consensus that higher education academic salaries are too low, relative to other groups of workers in the UK, and that this is leading to an academic 'brain drain'. There is concern that this in turn will result in lower quality higher education, as universities fail to attract the 'brightest and the best'. To rise above the rhetoric, there is a pressing need for robust evidence on relative academic salaries. In this paper, we compare the salaries of Higher Education teaching professionals in the United Kingdom with those of other comparable professionals. We offer evidence on relative salaries in HE academia over the last decade or so and we compare academic salaries to a range of different comparator groups, including some specific occupational groupings that one might view as more similar, in terms of unobserved characteristics, to academics. We then consider the extent to which the gap between the earnings of HE academics and that of other occupations is attributable to differences in the characteristics of academics, for example the fact that they are more highly educated on average, or to differences in the price paid for a given set of characteristics. We conclude that HE teaching professionals earn somewhat lower earnings than most public sector graduates and do particularly poorly compared to most other comparable professionals; they also work longer hours than most. In particular, academic earnings compare poorly to those in the legal professions, consultants physicians and dental practitioners (across both the public and private sectors). On the other hand, there are groups of public sector workers that do worse than HE academics, and in particular FE academics earn significantly less.

Outputs to date

  • Walker, James T., Vignoles, Anna and Mark Collins (2010), ‘Higher Education Academic Salaries in the UK’, Oxford Economic Papers, 62 (1): 12-35.
  • James Walker , Anna Vignoles and MarkCollins,(2007), Higher Education Academic Salaries in the UK, Centre for the Economics of Education Working Paper Series (CEEDP0075), London School of Economics
  • Higher Education Academic Salaries in the UK - sensitivity analysis
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