A new analysis of faculty salaries at public universities worldwide -- designed to make comparisons possible by focusing on purchasing power, not pure salaries -- finds that Canada offers the best faculty pay among 28 countries analyzed.
Canada comes out on top for those newly entering the academic profession, average salaries among all professors and those at the senior levels. In terms of average faculty salaries based on purchasing power, the United States ranks fifth, behind not only its northern neighbour, but also Italy, South Africa and India.
The figures (see table at end of article) are the result of an unusual research project between the Centre for International Higher Education, at Boston College, and the Laboratory for Institutional Analysis at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, in Moscow. The comparisons are designed to bypass a typical hindrance to international comparisons of faculty salaries (or any salaries for that matter): the sharply different costs of living in various countries.
Pure salary comparisons based on exchange rates would find the highest salaries in select Western developed nations. And certainly those countries do well even with the methodology used for this study. That methodology is based on the "purchasing power parity index" (PPP), in which salaries reflect what it takes to purchase similar goods and services in different countries. This enables countries with relatively low salaries (in pure finances) but also with low costs of living to be competitive with others where base pay is much higher.
And that's why it's possible for countries like South Africa and India to appear above the United States. In fact, because the American numbers are based on full-time positions and exclude most adjuncts, the American comparative position may be lower than is indicated. Generally, China and formerly Soviet-dominated countries fare poorly in the comparisons in the study.
In an interview, Altbach, who is director of the Boston College center, noted that there are numerous factors that differ from country to country for which the study could not control. Saudi Arabians pay no taxes, while Western Europeans pay relatively high taxes, he noted. The focus on public higher education faculty has little impact on the many countries without much of a private higher education sector, while in the United States, the sector is influential. Excluding private higher education means that the colleges and universities with the highest salaries are not in the American averages, but private higher education also includes many small colleges that pay on the low end of the scale.)
Even with these various caveats, Altbach said it was important for those who track higher education to start paying attention to the relative economic state of faculty members around the world. "There is a global academic market for talent," he said. Overall, the flow of talent is south to north, but the data reveal important trends beyond that of wealthy nations attracting brain power from less wealthy nations, he said. For example, the relatively solid position for India may suggest an ability of many Indian universities to hold on to academic talent. The relative strength of South Africa, he said, may explain why that country -- while concerned about brain drain to Europe and the United States -- attracts talent from elsewhere in Africa.
Altbach said that the research team members were not surprised by the dominance of Canada in the calculations, but that the healthy positions for Italy, South Africa and India "totally shocked us."
Two countries -- China and India -- have been the focus of many global education watchers in recent years as they have moved rapidly to expand capacity and expertise in their university systems. The study shows India holding its own in international faculty salary comparisons (factoring in cost of living), but not China. This reality has led Chinese universities, Altbach noted, to offer very high Western-style salaries, to a very small number of academics (typically Chinese experts recruited home). The numbers are such a small share of the total Chinese academic labour pool that they don't influence the Chinese totals, he said, but without these deviations from salary norms, China couldn't attract those researchers. India, in contrast, does not permit universities to deviate from salary norms for superstars.
Another area where the countries differ is in the difference between entry-level salaries (averages for assistant professors) and those at the top of their fields (full professors). Across all 28 countries studied, the average ratio of the senior salary average to the junior salary average was 2.06 to 1 (factoring in the PPP). The gaps between senior and junior pay levels were greatest in China (4.3 to 1) and smallest in Norway (1.3 to 1). Western European nations generally had low ratios.
The analysis examines many other issues as well, including fringe benefits, the nature of employment contracts and the existence of tenure (present in only some of the countries studied).
Altbach noted that there was one financial finding that was consistent across all of the countries studied: The middle class may be open to academics in many countries, but for most, they are not going to be 1 presenter. "In some countries the academic profession does all right," Altbach said. "But in no country are they treated like a key element of the international knowledge economy. No exception."
The following table, using PPP in U.S. dollars, shows monthly average salaries for entry-level, senior-level and average across-the-board salaries for public higher education faculty members. The countries are in order, lowest to highest for average salaries.
Monthly Average Salaries of Public Higher Education Faculty, Using U.S. PPP Dollars
Country Entry Average Top
Armenia $405 $538 $665
Russia 433 617 910
China 259 720 1,107
Ethiopia 864 1,207 1,580
Kazakhstan 1,037 1,553 2,304
Latvia 1,087 1,785 2,654
Mexico 1,336 1,941 2,730
Czech Republic 1,655 2,495 3,967
Turkey 2,173 2,597 3,898
Colombia 1,965 2,702 4,058
Brazil 1,858 3,179 4,550
Japan 2,897 3,473 4,604
France 1,973 3,484 4,775
Argentina 3,151 3,755 4,385
Malaysia 2,824 4,628 7,864
Nigeria 2,758 4,629 6,229
Israel 3,525 4,747 6,377
Norway 4,491 4,940 5,847
Germany 4,885 5,141 6,383
Netherlands 3,472 5,313 7,123
Australia 3,930 5,713 7,499
United Kingdom 4,077 5,943 8,369
Saudi Arabia 3,457 6,002 8,524
United States 4,950 6,054 7,358
India 3,954 6,070 7,433
South Africa 3,927 6,531 9,330
Italy 3,525 6,955 9,118
Canada 5,733 7,196 9,485