Academics earn some of the best salaries in Commonwealth

Among Commonwealth countries, South African higher education institutions offered the highest overall average salaries in 2017 and enjoyed the highest salary increases from 2016 – after cost of living is considered – according to a recent Association of Commonwealth Universities’ survey on academic salaries.

A report compiled by Emma Falk, research officer and Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) project leader, the 2017 survey released on 10 April indicates that South African institutions last year offered the highest overall average salaries (US$96,474) – both in terms of salary scales and actual take-home salaries – at all academic ranks, except for entry-level salaries for professors, where Australian institutions offered comparatively higher salaries.

However, if market exchange rate is used, the survey shows that, overall, Australian average salaries were the highest compared to other countries in the survey (US$97,369).

Overall, South African institutions had the highest increases of average salaries from 2016 at 5.8%, but South Africa had institutional variations in pay, considerable disparities in wealth and high levels of inflation, driven by currency fluctuations, which make comparative salary values more volatile than for other countries, Falk notes.

The survey also shows that South African and Indian institutions had the highest average salaries compared to national gross domestic product per capita.

In African institutions, the largest gap between female and male academic salaries was found at the professorial level, where the average salary of a female professor was 92% of her male counterpart.

The survey shows that Malaysian overall average take-away salaries were higher than salaries offered in the United Kingdom, while average take-away salaries for professors and associate professors in Indian institutions were on par with salaries for these ranks in the United Kingdom.

It emerged from the survey that attracting and retaining faculty is a key strategic concern for all universities. Falk said staff recruitment and retention was particularly pressing for Commonwealth countries facing staff shortages due to ageing workforces and difficulties in keeping up with an expansion of higher education provision.

There was also greater focus on institutions’ international profile and standing which rendered the issue of international staff mobility more important.

“Whilst not simply a question of remuneration, ensuring that salaries and benefits are both domestically and internationally attractive is an important benchmark for higher education institutions and education ministries, and one to which the ACU has devoted much attention,” said Falk.

The ACU conducts the only ongoing survey of academic salaries in Commonwealth countries. The survey is part of a broader online benchmarking service known as ACU Measures which allows participating members to compare annual salary scales, average salaries and associated benefits with selected groups of institutions (such as by region, country or type of institution). Data collection for 2018 started in February and will close in May.