Posted tagged ‘academic pay’

Students vs staff in the Great Crisis?

December 13, 2010

According to some reports, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have called for a renegotiation of the Croke Park agreement – the agreement between the Irish government and the public sector trade unions under which further pay cuts for public servants were ruled out – in order to protect student ‘frontline services’. Although I have not seen any elaboration of this demand, it means, presumably, that the USI want salaries to be cut and the savings re-allocated to the teaching and student services budgets in the universities and colleges.

It is unlikely, I would think, that the government will want to re-open the Croke Park agreement just for the universities, and in any case that would generate a fairly strong union response. But it will be interesting to see whether this demand gets traction, and what the nature of the debate will be, should there be one. I am not aware, so far, of any trade union response, nor indeed any response by the universities and institutes.

Overpaid academics?

November 17, 2010

Over the past week or so the Irish newspapers have given over a fair amount of space to the issue of academic salaries in Ireland. The gist of the commentary has been that Irish academics are seriously over-paid, and that professors in particular are far too generously treated. Last week the Irish Times produced a list of the 100 best paid employees in Irish education, and  this was followed yesterday by an article written by Brian Mooney in which he suggested nobody in education (and, following a line that has been taken by Fintan O’Toole in the same paper, in the public service overall) should be paid more than €100,000.

It should probably be said that in Ireland all university professors (and a significant proportion of associate professors) earn over €100,000, so we are not necessarily talking about a small minority at the top. Also, because there will presumably still need to be a differential between grades, any reduction of professorial salaries to below €100,000 will produce a knock-on effect that will reduce all salaries across the sector, at least to some extent. A substantial proportion of those affected will then, in all likelihood, have problems with mortgages or similar payments, as they will have taken on debt based on their assumptions of income.

Irish professors, like other public sector employees, have had their pay cut already over the past two years. It is true that they enjoy salaries that are above the international norm. But in order to qualify for these salaries they have to win qualifications and demonstrate achievement that, in most other professions, would get them higher salaries still.

It may well be that, as a nation, we need to re-think the levels of pay that we can afford, but it is not reasonable to single out academics in this way, and to do it in such an off-hand manner.

Academic pay – is it all just too much? Or too little?

September 21, 2010

My column in today’s Irish Times covers the topic of academic pay, prompted in part by the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on resource management by the universities. You can find my article here. I am posting the link as some readers of this blog have expressed an interest in commenting on the piece.

Differential pay for academics – United States data

December 6, 2009

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.

Are we over-paid?

August 17, 2009

One of the questions to have been raised in recent public debate about the Irish higher education system has been whether Irish academics are paid too generously. It is pointed out occasionally that academic pay in Ireland is on average much higher than that elsewhere. Broadly speaking, pay in Irish universities (for those in full-time permanent jobs) is in a range from €42,000 for a junior lecturer at the start of their career to a maximum of perhaps €145,000 for a full professor. In the United Kingdom the range is from about €37,000 to a maximum of €82,000 (though in fact some professors are able to negotiate rather higher pay), in the United States €58,000 to €98,000, and Germany €25,000 to €35,000.

There is no doubt that this looks generous, though one might add that many of the students taught by these lecturers and professors will not take long, after graduation, to earn even more in other professions, with lower qualifications. However, it is a question that we must be willing to address, and we must be able to demonstrate that the pay scales provide good value. Of course, this country has the ambition to be a knowledge economy, and it could be argued that universities need to provide attractive employment for those with the greatest talents and the best qualifications.

To date we have not been good at marshalling the points and providing persuasive arguments. So what should we be saying? Or are we really all just over-paid? And I am not even mentioning the pay of presidents…