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UK academics paid less than lecturers in other English-speaking countries

5 February 2014

As staff prepare for Thursday's strike in universities, only New Zealand's academics earn less amongst English-speaking countries in Deloitte survey

As staff in UK universities prepare to walk out for their third one-day strike tomorrow (Thursday) as part of a worsening pay dispute, analysis of the most recent international figures on pay, compiled by Deloitte¹, show that UK lecturers earn significantly less than their counterparts in Australia, Canada and the USA.

The University and College Union's analysis of the report into pay levels in the UK, Australia, Canada, the USA and New Zealand demonstrates that UK academics' pay is amongst the lowest in English-speaking countries, despite our higher education system being ranked second out of 50 countries for the results it produces.

After adjusting salary data to purchasing power parity, pay for UK lecturers is outstripped by all other countries except New Zealand. The figures showed UK lecturers were paid 45% less than Canadians, 34% less than American lecturers and 16% less than their Australian contemporaries. 

A separate study of the higher education systems of 50 countries, undertaken by the University of Melbourne in May 2013², found that the UK did more for less than its global competitors. The study ranked it second only to the United States for the output of its universities which included quality of research, numbers of students and number of world-class universities. However, when resources going into higher education were analysed, the UK dropped to a mid-table position of 24th out of the 50, whereas the US came fifth.

University staff's refusal to accept a 1% pay offer has prompted the current pay dispute with UK universities. A 1% pay rise would leave staff with a real-terms pay cut of 13% since 2009. While staff pay has been kept down, vice-chancellors enjoyed an average pay rise of 5.1% last year, and an average salary of £235,000. 

UCU members took two full days of strike action last year with members of Unison, Unite and the EIS trade unions. All four unions will take part in tomorrow's one-day strike. Members of UCU have separately taken two two-hour strikes in January, with a third scheduled for Monday 10 February (9-11am).

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'UK academics are receiving significantly less pay than their counterparts in most other English-speaking countries. There is no justification for staff in Brisbane or Boston to be paid substantially more than those in Bristol.

'Research shows that our universities continue to perform at the very highest levels on the global stage. If we don't start properly rewarding staff in this country then international academics will understandably look elsewhere and our own staff may consider their options abroad.

'We cannot take our reputation, which is forged by the knowledge and expertise of our staff, for granted. Union members taking strike action are angry that vice-chancellors continue to see their pay increase while pleading poverty when it comes to staff pay. It's time for fair pay for all.'

Table 1: Payment for lecturers adjusted to purchasing power parity (PPP) in US dollars






New Zealand

Payment as PPP in $






Salary converted to £*






* converted to GBP by UCU (exchange rate of $0.63 to £1.00)

Table 2: Percentage less paid to UK lecturers compared to lecturers in countries earning more than UK in PPP







Last updated: 10 December 2015