Differential pay for academics – United States data
As we all know, pay in any public sector profession is currently a matter of significant national interest, and universities are no exception. One of the features of the Irish system is that all academics within a particular grade are paid the same, nation-wide; the only exception (and there are very few of these) are those for whom special arrangements have been made under a framework set up by the Higher Education Authority, but the number of these is so small is doesn’t need to concern us here. What the overall position on academic pay means is that there is no ‘market rate’ for anyone’s job in Irish universities, nor is any distinction made between academics specialising in one field and those in another. This posaition has its strong defenders as well as its detractors, and both make certain assumptions about what would happen if it were dropped.
It may therefore be interesting to observe what has happened in the United States, where there are no such restrictions. The most recent data to have been published relate to the academic year 2007-08, so the figures are not wholly up to date. But they do contain some surprises. At a general level, the salaries for all academics are low by Irish standards, whatever the grade or the discipline. And while there are differences between subject areas, the rankings are not entirely what you might expect. The lowest paid are theologians (but of course there are calls to poverty in many different religions, so maybe no surprises there). But then a gender studies professor gets on average $10,000 more than a science professor. Professors in foreign languages and literatures get some $8,000 more than English literature professors. Business and management professors get $5,000 less than engineering professors. What is less surprising perhaps is that the highest paid are law professors; but what is surprising is that clinical sciences professors are not anywhere near the top of the list.
So what might we conclude? Perhaps just that where salaries are not fixed across the board, the ‘market’ does not necessarily behave as some might think. That’s not particularly an argument for any particular approach to this issue, but maybe one to suggest that if we do review academic pay policies we should not immediately jump to conclusions as to what the outcome would be. It seems likely to me that the long term sustainability of the current link between academic pay and certain civil service grades will be questioned over the period ahead; we need to start thinking about how we should respond to such discussions.Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, university
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