© Higher Ed Morning, 2011

Jaschik, S. (2012) Faculty Pay, Around the World, Inside Higher Education, March 22

Philip Altbach, Liz Reisberg, Maria Yudkevich, Gregory Androushchak, Iván Pacheco (in press) Paying the Professoriate: A Global Comparison of Compensation and Contracts London/New York: Routledge

The Inside Higher Education reports on a fascinating study conducted by researchers from the USA and Russia that compares academic salaries around the world, after adjusting for the cost of living in each country (but not for taxes, for some reason).

Canada has the highest paid faculty, both at entry and as an overall average, followed by Italy, South Africa, India and the United States, in that order.

The web site for the project has several very interesting maps showing relative salaries by country.


Such comparative studies are always open to criticism (see the comments after the Inside Higher Education article), but having travelled to many of the countries, the results make sense to me. It’s how you interpret them and what they may result in that matters.

First, one result of globalization is that there is an ‘arms race’ in salaries to attract the best faculty. However there are other factors too, such as the availability of research grants, and working conditions, especially teaching load, and other extras, such as the availability of consultancies and other extra work, and the proportion of much lower paid contract instructors. Nevertheless, the need for knowledge workers and the importance given by governments in many countries to their universities in producing such graduates means that there will be continued pressure to keep salaries increasing in a ‘free’ global labour market. In this sense, it’s probably good for Canada that it’s ‘top’.

Second, the report points out that despite the trends in salaries, most university faculty are well outside the top 1% of the wealthy.

Third, the USA is such a diverse system, with many ‘universities’ that barely deserve the name, as well as top rank elite universities, that an average for that country doesn’t mean a lot. Canada’s high salaries generally result from making comparisons with the elite universities just south of the border.

Fourth, expect Canadian salaries to come under pressure (or rather, not to continue to increase at a rate compared with other of the top five countries) over the next few years as some provincial governments grapple with budget deficits, and students (and politicians) try to limit increases to tuition fees. Canadian universities slid relatively unscathed through the 2008 economic recession compared to the state universities in the USA, who are currently undergoing massive cuts to their budgets, but that comparative advantage is not going to continue for ever as the US economy slowly recovers.

Fifth, India and China make interesting comparisons. Despite a massive increase in student numbers in both countries, India has managed to protect the salaries of its academics across the board, while China has had to rely on paying high salaries to a small elite of professors, but the general faculty salaries are still low in China even when the relatively low cost of living is taken into account. I leave it to you to speculate on what that ‘gap’ in salaries means for the future.

Lastly, what does all this mean in terms of value for money? Faculty salaries are by far the biggest single item in university budgets, accounting for at least 70% of all teaching costs. They have increased at least in North America at a much faster rate than inflation over the last 20 years, while teaching loads have actually dropped. Do higher salaries though lead to better teaching? I doubt it. What universities are looking for are top researchers rather than top teachers. Is there any way to tie increased salaries to teaching performance? Probably not, except perhaps for internal promotions. It looks like students and/or tax payers in Canada will continue to pay more without any expectation that the teaching will get any better or more productive. How depressing.


  1. You make a good point that the average salary for a system as large and diverse as the United States is not a useful marker for global comparisons. By contrast, the university systems here in Australia and New Zealand are small and pretty uniform in the salary rates paid across different universities.
    Does the study take into account the standard deviations for each county’s data set?


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