Guest blogger: Academic Compensation Around the World – It is not Just About the Salary

This guest entry is written by Ivan F. Pacheco who is the co-editor of the book “Paying the Professoriate” and currently works at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College. 

“Paying the Professoriate: A Global Comparison of Compensations and Contracts,” presents the main findings of a comparative study conducted by the Laboratory for Institutional Analysis (LIA) at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow, and Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education, in the United States will be published soon by Routledge. The study included 28 countries from all continents and different economic, political, and academic contexts and provides valuable information about the remuneration for the academic work and other important topics shaping the academic profession.

One of the main results of this study is the comparison of salaries for full time professor from public universities using PPP dollars—a conversion rate index that allows comparisons across countries based on the cost of living.  In this comparison Canada offers the best entry-level, overall average, and top-level salaries; China the lowest entry-level salary; and Armenia the lowest overall average and top-level salaries. Norway has very competitive entry-level salaries but the top-level salaries do not rank as well (see the table).

There are significant disparities across countries. The average top-level salary in Armenia is $665 and $910 in Russia;, the average entry-level salary in Ethiopia is $864, and the average top-level salary is $1,580.  The average entry-level salary in Canada (5,733) or about 22 times the average entry-level salary in China (259), more than 14 times the average in Armenian (405), and more than thirteen times the average in Russian (433) (All values in PPP US Dollars).

It is tempting to focus on the numerical data and overlook many other important details that “Paying the Professoriate” covers.  In fact, the book includes 28 country case studies presenting different issues that define academic compensation, most items too difficult to summarize in a single table.  The following sections cover some of these issues.

Fringe Benefits, Bonuses, and Taxes

Fringe benefits, allowances, and bonuses can add significantly to a professor’s compensation. In China salary is just a tiny fraction of what a professor can make, while bonuses and allowances provide the main income.  The list of fringe benefits and allowances across the 28 countries is long and diverse, with important differences from country to country, and includes sabbatical periods, paid vacations, retirement plans, health insurance and sometimes a cost of living and “dearness allowances”, housing, entertainment, and transportation.

The figures included in the comparison table account for gross salaries.  However, taxes also bias international comparisons.  While taxes in north European countries are higher than most countries, there are no taxes at all in Saudi Arabia.  The complexity of comparing taxes across the 28 countries made it nearly impossible to embark on a comparison of net salaries.

Entry and Advancement Requirements

Entry requirements to the profession and criteria to advance also vary widely from country to country.  In many countries a doctoral degree is the minimum requirement to enter the profession.  Sometimes, doctoral students are considered as part of the academic career (Germany) but this level is generally considered equivalent to adjunct faculty limited (if any) possibility of advancing on the academic ladder.

In several countries, the habilitation—a research product similar to a doctoral dissertation but conducted by the aspiring professor without an advisor—is a requirement to become a full professor.  Other countries have lower requirements. In some countries (Colombia and Japan), a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for entry into the profession, though it may not be enough to advance in it.

Nonetheless, in an increasingly competitive job market, candidates tend to have higher degrees and the master’s is becoming common for entering academic staff in many of these countries. In countries were the habilitation has been required alternatives are being considered to make access to the profession less demanding.

Academic Contracts

Tenure and civil service are the two dominant patterns of contracts and both offer academic staff great stability.  While getting tenure is a long process (typically five to seven years) with demanding requirements regarding research output and—less often—teaching; civil service usually requires a single exam (or set of tests) usually followed by a probation term of no more than two years.   There are also several countries in which the professoriate does not enjoy either of type of contracts and is hired under labor law applicable to any other worker in the country.  Stability, which used to be one of the main perks of the academic profession, is now declining.  In several countries fulltime permanent contracts are giving way to less stable positions such as adjunct professors and fixed-term appointments.

Supplementary Employment

The bottom-line question of the study was whether academic salaries provide a middle-class standard of living locally.  An extra layer of complexity was added to the study by attempting to compare academic salaries to other occupations that require similar qualifications.

In many countries academic salaries do not sustain a middle class standard of living, or may only for those in the top of the payment scale.  When salary was insufficient, or when extra income was needed, professors opted for engaging in additional work, such as teaching additional hours in their “primary” institution, teaching part-time in a second institution (usually a private one), consulting, or even getting involved in a completely different type of employment.  Some professors are encouraged by their own institutions to participate in profitable activities; sometimes they are discouraged or forbidden to work for another institution, but may do so regardless.

The differences in salaries and working conditions across countries certainly influence the decision to stay in one’s home country or move to a different one.  Brain drain is still a concern for many countries.  But if you are a professor and planning to move to South Africa, Italy, India or any other country to get a better salary do not pack your bags yet.  There is some useful information in this book that you should consider first.

Additional information can be found on the project’s website