GLOBAL: Saudi Arabia pays academics best, China worst

Academics in Saudi Arabia are the best paid on earth while scholars in China are the worst off, according to a pioneering just-published global study of salaries conducted by the Boston College Center for International Higher Education in the US. The average academic salary across 15 countries surveyed is US$4,050 a month in purchasing power parity dollars - and lecturers can expect to earn triple their country's per capita estimate - International Comparison of Academic Salaries: An exploratory study.

Overall, making comparisons using the World Bank purchasing power parity (PPP) index, the study finds that China pays academics the lowest salaries at all of three levels surveyed - entry points to the profession, national averages, and the highest levels of the academic job ladder. Canada pays academics most generously at entry level, while average and top-level salaries are highest in Saudi Arabia.

"China and India consistently register the lowest salary averages," says the report, "while Saudi Arabia, Canada, the United States and Australia hover near the top of the spectrum across the three salary levels analysed in this study."

The countries surveyed were: Argentina (overall average salary $3,054 per month), Australia ($4,795), Canada ($6,548), China ($1,182), Colombia ($2,826), France ($3,905), Germany ($4,333), India ($1,547), Japan ($4,112), Malaysia ($3,107), New Zealand ($4,490), Saudi Arabia ($6,611), South Africa ($4,076), the United Kingdom ($4,343) and United States ($5,816).

The average entry-level salary across the countries was $2,888 a month while top-level salaries average $5,318 a month.

"The remuneration of the academic profession is central to the success of the higher education enterprise everywhere and is also critically important to individual academics around the world," write authors Laura E Rumbley, Iván F Pacheco and Philip G Altbach.

The study, they argue, "is unique in its use of broad national-level data and its effort to compare salaries both across countries and employment ranks". The use of PPP measures made it possible to provide reasonably accurate comparisons. Data, the authors report, are relevant from 2004 to 2007.

Among the study's key findings are that, unsurprisingly, more developed countries tend to pay higher salaries than less developed countries. "However, there is no lockstep relationship between these two variables," and in less developed countries ratios of salaries to GDP per capita incomes rank higher and the spread between entry- and top-level tends to be greater.

For instance, Indian academics on average earn 8.73 times their country's estimated monthly GDP per capita figure - the biggest difference between academic and national income of the 15 countries. At the low end is France, where academics make on average 1.58 times their country's GDP per capita per month estimate. On average, says the report, academics can expect to make 3.2 times the monthly GDP per capita estimate for their country.

"The best prospects for raising a salary over a career - from the entry-level average to the top-level average - are in Saudi Arabia, where the absolute difference in monthly salaries from the top to the bottom of the scale is R5,328 (in World Bank PPP$)," says the report.

"The country with the worst prospects for salary progression in absolute terms is India, with an average increase of $920 (in World Bank PPP$) over the course of a career."

Although they get paid the worst at all levels, in terms of percentage increase in salary from entry-level to the top of the salary scale, "Chinese academic salaries register the most robust growth in the group, at 170%, while Germany shows the lowest increase in salaries moving up the employment ladder, at 39%," the study finds. "The average change from entry- to top-level salaries for this group of countries is 94%."

And while Columbia and Argentina also pay comparatively low salary averages - only out-performing India and China in terms of absolute salary average - they also register larger differences between entry-level and top-level salaries than France and Germany.

"New Zealand hovers in the middle of the pack across much of the analysis, as does Japan," the study finds, while South Africa "offers some surprises" - it is placed 10th on the ranking of entry-level salaries but rises to fifth position in terms of top-level salaries. "This significant spread in salary levels between the entry and top positions on the academic employment ladder is outdone only by Saudi Arabia."

International Comparison of Academic Salaries: An exploratory study, Rumbley, Pacheco and Altbach explain, illustrates how academic salaries compare across countries set against two benchmark indicators for national development: the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank's GDP per capita estimates.

They focused on five major components - salary data, contextual information relevant to each country, purchasing power parity, national development considerations bearing in mind standard of living indicators, and key salary-income benchmarks for each country. Data was collected from government sources, reputable studies and experts. Still, say the authors:

"Unfortunately, measuring academic salaries is far from science. Plagued by a lack of consistent data (or for many countries, any data at all), difficulties in comparing living costs, and other problems, this study must be seen as a first attempt rather than a definitive report."


I wonder why Switzerland has not been mentioned in your report? In terms of salaries, it seriously challenges the position of Saudi Arabia as world leader of high academic payments.

Erich Thaler

Why you did not include Norway, Switzerland and Netherlands? In these countries, salary is much more compared to any other countries mentioned in your list.