I was looking at faculty jobs, and most of the jobs in UK publish the salary range and band, which (from my understanding) is essentially non-negotiable and adopted by most universities in the UK. It ends up being roughly 65k USD for an assistant professor / lecturer entry level position, even for top-tier universities in places like London, compared to places like NYC or Boston where beginner faculty salaries are easily upwards of 100k to start.

From reading a bit about this, and from looking at other posts on Academia.SE, people often say you can't compare these, or that the UK has other perks. But what exactly are these? The tax rate in the UK is 40% of what you make over 50k GBP (20% below), so even if you do get a good incremental raise, you lose almost half of it; and on top of this you pay 12% of your paycheck for National Insurance. UK universities do tend to have good pension matching (20%), but that's common in a lot of US universities too. They offer good leave (5 weeks) but many US jobs are only 9 mo contract, and still pay in the 80-100k range. So you can either take 12 weeks off per year, or, if needed, you work another up to three more months and have a higher salary supported by grants (which isn't possible in the UK scheme).

So... What am I missing? Are there hidden benefits? And otherwise how do good universities like Oxford, Imperial, UCL actually recruit good faculty?

I get that places vary a lot and some people can't move or they like one place more than another. But I'm not asking a hypothetical... I'm interested in specific reasons why you or someone you know has preferred the UK over a similarly ranked, better paying faculty job elsewhere in the world. I get that there are a lot of what ifs, like maybe the US uni has worse healthcare or childcare. But in my experience with R1 universities in the US, these perks are really really good, even for postdocs. The best answer so far is the non-tenure system in the UK, which does seem better.

For even more clarification, I'm asking this as someone that has never been to the UK, so I have no idea if I would like it more than the US. I don't care about less money – that's the whole point of my question. I'm happy to take less if there are other perks. But what I'm asking is what exactly are these perks? And ideally from the perspective of someone that has worked in academia in the UK vs elsewhere.

  • Various pros/cons of living in various places have been moved to chat. The conversation may continue in chat; however, comments below this one should attempt to clarify the question or suggest improvements only (sadly, we cannot move comments to chat more than once)
    – cag51
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 20:44
  • I think Why don't poorer countries suffer a complete brain-drain? is highly related.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 15:26
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    This question (and reinforced by your comment on an answer; "what I really am asking is what is there to like about the UK?") seems like it has nothing to do with academia since what you are really asking is whether the UK is better than the USA in general. This question could be asked in almost identical terms about a job in just about any industry.
    – JBentley
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 13:12
  • Dear OP, after 1.5 years maybe can you finally self-answer this question?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 6:36

11 Answers 11


I'll answer from the perspective of someone who has worked in both the UK and the US and also in Industry as well as academia during my lengthy career.

Although all the other answers and comment raise valid points, many of which I concur with, they do not completely resonate with me, as someone who has done both.

One of the perspectives I noticed while travelling backwards and forward across the Atlantic over the years which may have influenced the question is the expectation that life elsewhere would be "just like here"; but it isn't. When I was in Houston, for example, I acted like an Englishman and walked from place to place and caught the Bus, much to the horror of my hosts who were surprised that I came out alive without speaking Spanish. I was horrified they were horrified! Similarly colleagues from LA tried to rent a car from Heathrow to drive to their hotel in Mayfair which I considered madness. They thought I was rather common sharing transport with other people. (Not academic examples but they exaggerate the point).

Although I am a native speaker of English and was aware of the cultural and linguistic differences I found that working in UK academia at a "lower salary" much more cost effective than when working in the US at a much "higher salary". For example, although food cost more in the UK, housing cost less. Health care cost less, emergency provision cost less, child care and education cost less, daily travel cost less. I also found that the pressure on working hours was less and the time available for vacations and my family was much better. The pension scheme was (when I entered it, but not now) miles better and so on.

I have friends and colleagues who left the UK and remain in the US, both in Industry and Academia. It suits them. I miss much about the US, but there is much to like about many places and cultures where I have been. Every single one has value. I guess I long for Un monde sans frontières.

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    "I miss much about the US"... "...Houston...". So, that would be good Mexican food, right? And either good craft beer or Mexican beer???
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 14:56
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    London housing is cheaper than Boston, let alone NYC or SF. Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 20:53
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    If you want a sales pitch, go talk to a sales person. Nobody here has any reason to convince you either way, of why you should go anywhere particular; if you want to know why other people would, well, that's the answer you've got, here. @user3037237
    – Nij
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 8:17
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    The problem about comparing "cost of living" is that it tends to compare the costs of an identical lifestyle in two countries, and if you're going to enjoy living in a different country, then you have to adapt to a different lifestyle. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 12:24
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    Then you're conducting a poll, and that's just not what SE is for. People have already described what perks (beginning, or continuing) a career in the UK provides, compared with the USA, and why the focus here is the wrong one. The question has been answered; changing it because you don't like the answers is not how SE works, either.
    – Nij
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 18:32

I see with some of your comments to some of the offered answers that you consider the social benefits (healthcare and other forms of job security, life security), the community and safety (gun violence, walkability of cities), work benefits (annual leave and how it is perceived) as "not real benefits" or as "reasons that the UK sucks a bit less".

I can understand that as somebody coming from a country where these things are not standard and nor, you assign value to these things as "added bonus". However, as somebody who comes from this system, these are absolutely dealbreaking for me.

For example:

  • I am absolutely horrified by the idea that I would have to keep a certain amount of money (I heard as much as $10k from friends and acquaintances) aside just in case I needed to call an ambulance.

    Honestly compared to other European countries where I've lived prior, the social protections, worker protections and health care in the UK are not even the best I've ever experienced. Giving even more up would feel like a step backwards to me.

  • You put the US 9-month contracts (where you could make extra money by working for the remaining 3 months) in the same context with the UK 5 weeks of annual leave "during which you can not make extra money".

    The very approach to this is fundamentally different. The (government-backed) attitude here is that any worker needs time off work in a year (and I mean more than just weekends). This is fully paid annual leave. The UK academics have a more generous leave allowance than some UK jobs, but there is actually a minimum prescribed number of leave days that you are obliged to take annually (28). Taking time off here is expected; nobody will interpret it as being unmotivated to work.

    (Check "What does it mean to have vacation time in European academia?" for an old but excellent question on the vacation topic specifically)

  • The whole gun thing in the US. The idea that you can get one without going through a rigorous certification process. Shivers down my spine.

  • Car-oriented cities vs human-oriented cities.

    I am already disappointed by how car-oriented some UK places are and how hard it is to get around on foot, by bicycle or using public transport. But I am still generally succeeding in having a high standard of living without driving at all.

  • The reliance of the Higher Education system on tuition fees.

    (Decided to edit this one in after a discussion in the comments).

    Obviously, when considering an academic faculty position, the considerations about tuition fees are different from an undergrad. I actually think there are two aspect to this one.

    The first academic position is one of the earliest points of stability in an academic career that allows one to plan for a family. I am of a firm opinion that education should be free. I would never start a family in the US, knowing that I'll either have to save up substantially for my children's education, or settle them with a crippling debt before they ever join the workforce. And while the UK is definitely not Europe (the Universities are still tuition-reliant, and the tuitions are high), it's certainly not the US either; residents of Scotland do not pay tuition, and the UK student debt is treated much differently to the US one (for one, most of the students are never required to repay the majority of it).

    But even beyond hypothetical future children, there is a personal motivation for doing research. One of the reasons I chose academia over industry was the potential for my work to be more widely accessible rather than behind a paywall. The idea that the students should pay to access my knowledge goes fundamentally against why I'm doing research.

You might not consider any of these as a tangible benefit, and I can respect that. But basically, I would never consider a job in the US, academic or otherwise precisely for these reasons. With my current perception of the society in the US, I think living there would necessarily induce sacrifices to my standard of living which I am simply not prepared to make.

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    There was a time when an answer offered a day after the question was asked was not considered a "late answer" on academia.se. I do want to say however, that I do not consider these "emotive aspects" -- these are very tangible benefits for me. I don't consider social security/workers rights/community and city organisation to be an emotional issue for me. I understand that somebody with little experience with these things might not be able to assign a value to them (at all, or at least differently to me) -- in fact, they influence how I make financial decisions in the long run.
    – penelope
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 16:51
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    This captures very well the reasons why I never considered applying for a permanent position in the US. I've heard similar sentiments from many others. The transportation part btw also ties into financial aspects: It's very viable to not own a car in many/most? places in the UK. Also, the US has about 4x the UK per-capita rate of fatal traffic accidents.
    – Arno
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 10:26
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    If the question was about any other EU country, I would also mention free Uni for any kids I may one day have (or not) -- but I think the UK is becoming the US of Europe with the ridiculous tuition fees.
    – penelope
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 10:31
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    @user3037237 Hence the term "US of Europe". But to be fair -- as bad and horrifying as the UK tuitions seem to me, UK student loans are statistically more likely than not to be waived before the (now ex-)students are anywhere close to fully repaying them, and they're not taken into account when considering current debt for e.g. a mortgage. So again, quite a different level. But the idea that I (or my eventual offspring) would start an adult life, after completing a degree, any poorer than penniless (i.e. with a crippling debt) is just unfathomable to me.
    – penelope
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 13:37
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    UK universities have fees, but you don't have to pay them. You get a "student loan" but it's not like any other loan you will ever find - you only have to pay back a percentage of your income over a threshold. If that's not enough to cover the loan after a certain period, the remainder is cancelled. IMHO you shouldn't think of it as a loan, you are selling the government a bond and they are taking a stake in your future.
    – rjmunro
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 14:22

My answer builds on excellent comments of Massimo Ortolano and Buffy.

You question stems from the assumption that high salary is what makes an occupation most attractive. Although it might be true for some, people who choose academic careers typically are aware that academia is not paying very well. You will see a much more attractive paycheck if you work in IT, banking, finance, management and administration, distribution of illegal goods. However, there are obvious downsides in doing a career in distribution of illegal goods; and similarly some people see downsides in other well-compensated employments. Paycheck is important; but other factors are also important, and academics are not mostly motivated by a paycheck.

Obviously, there is a huge difference in academic salaries in the UK and US. If you include EU, China and Asia, Russia and post-Soviet countries in comparison, the difference is even more striking. For many academics the scale of US salaries and research budgets is a sufficient motivation for the move - if you look at the faculty lists of many US Universities you will find a lot of surnames associated with China, Russia, European countries, etc. But obviously, not every non-US academic is motivated enough to move to the US. Why?

Well, we already answered it: not everyone is motivated to move. Moving countries is a big challenge!

  1. When families move, often both partners have to leave their jobs, and only one partner has a job offer at the moment of the move. Another partner may or may not have work permit in the country, and may or may not have good chances to get a well-payed job, depending on their background, skills, language proficiency, etc. Even when salary of one partner improves, family as a whole is forced to leave on a tighter budget at least for some time.
  2. US immigration system is not the easiest to manage. EU citizens do not experience immigration issues while working in EU (UK leaving the EU recently has caused many UK academics to move to EU and US).
  3. US does not always look like to be the country that particularly welcomes refugees and economic migrants - and work migrants can feel that they will not be particularly welcome as well. People working in their own country do not experience systematic bias based on how they look and speak.
  4. US healthcare bills look exorbitant; healthcare in many EU countries, including UK, is free for patients.
  5. Childcare, education and University tuition fees vary from country to country. While children of faculty are typically considered home students (vs international), they may not be eligible for loans to finance their education, making it less affordable.
  6. The cost of life, including cost of accommodation, is very high in some places in the US, making it not affordable for academics and even higher-payed IT specialists, etc.

Arguments above apply to more or less any professional employment. There are also a few specific differences between academic employment in the US and UK/EU.

  1. Tenure in the US is competitive and takes ~5 years. Tenure in the UK (a permanent lecturer post) is awarded after a probation period, which is between 1-3 years in most UK Universities. The probation process is non-competitive and typically >90% of lecturers in the UK pass their probation without issues.
  2. Work-life balance differs from place to place; some US departments are notorious for their exploitative work practices towards non-tenured academics and PhD researchers.
  3. The academic culture, teaching practices and student expectations vary from one place to another; some academics find US students not adequately prepared for their classes and expecting/demanding too much from their professors.
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    US healthcare bills look exorbitant => they're really not if you have good health insurance. This is a very common myth that's unfortunately hard to dispel. If you work for a good institution/company you'll have good insurance. And as a European you don't care about things like getting cancer - worst case you just pack your bags and fly home. Europeans living in the US get to eat their cake and have it too in this regard :) Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 23:54
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    @JonathanReez It's not a myth, it's a simple fact. Health insurance does not make bills lower, it just means your insurance is paying for them. US healthcare bills are not only high, they are also unpredictable. On top of that, US health insurance is notoriously difficult to navigate. For every person who got excellent care with reasonable out of pocket costs, you will find someone who thought they had good coverage and still got a large bill. That stress is much lower in European countries.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 8:52
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    @JonathanReez It's definitely better for some but hiding behind "good healthcare plans” is kind of begging the question and “no true Scotsman“ argument. Even if you're in tech and you have a good coverage now, it matters in multiple ways. My experience goes beyond the tech community and it's definitely not the top 20% of earners who have nothing to worry about (how many people do you suppose work in tech?) The simple facts you're still dancing around is that (a) the bills are high and unpredictable and (2) you have to worry about what insurance you get.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 22:46
  • 3
    Add to that the fact that academic careers are notoriously erratic (you admitted yourself even working at a university is not enough to know that will get something reasonable!) and you have already got a very different experience than that of the healthy 20-something engineers or double income couples you're chatting with.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 22:52
  • 7
    @JonathanReez I worked at Harvard Medical School, and had one of the best heathcare plans around. I still had to pay $250/month out of my paycheck, on top of the $2000/month the employer was paying. And I still had to pay an alarming large co-pay when I went to the ER with chest pains and a numb arm. As a brit who had never paid a penny for any healthcare in my life, this was quite a shock. Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 10:52

A major thing to keep in mind is that it's relatively unusual for someone to have multiple offers that differ only by one being in the UK and one in the US. For example, many people only have one offer. But also suppose you have two offers, one in London and one in Iowa City, then most likely your opinions on living in a major city vs living in a cute college town is going to matter just as much as salary. Similarly, perhaps the offer in the UK is at a more prestigious school than the one in the US.

Speaking of prestigious schools, at the very top schools in the US there are no permanent entry-level jobs, whereas in the UK there are. Someone deciding between Princeton and Cambridge at a junior level is deciding between a temporary job and a permanent one, which allows Cambridge to be competitive. Moreover, at the senior level someone deciding between Princeton and Cambridge will likely be offered some kind of very fancy chair in the UK where the salary bands don't apply.

A second thing to keep in mind is that most faculty made their job decision in the past and not the present, and if circumstances change it may be unappealing or impossible to move to a comparable new job. This is especially important when comparing the US and the UK because right now the Pound is worth $1.3 but between 1990-2010 it was usually around $1.6 and got as high as $2 several times. A 25% pay raise would make British positions significantly more appealing. Especially with Brexit I do think it will be increasingly difficult for UK academia to maintain its historical competitiveness, but it takes decades for these trends to play out.

Finally, as everyone has said culture, familiarity, and proximity to family plays a huge role. Generally Americans prefer to stay in America and British people prefer to stay in the UK.

  • 1
    one in Iowa City -- I can't help but wonder how Iowa City as an example came about ... :) Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 17:15
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    Well, everyone knows that River City is where the real trouble is...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 18:04
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    I wanted a place that was small but actually secretly a nice place to live, and also where people might actually have some idea where it is even if they're not USian (so having Iowa in the name is a plus). Thought about using my own town (Bloomington) as an example, but then it makes it sound like it might be a decision I actually made. I have had offers in neither Iowa City nor any of the schools in London, but have visited both! Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 19:36
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    @user3037237 I think the problem here is if you don't have a preference and have multiple offers, the usual determinant would be not your perks, etc., but what's on offer for your research. We don't know what area you work in, but for me (lab-based research) I'd be thinking cash for my group for e.g. equipment, students, and wider environment e.g. shared equipment, potential collaborators. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 9:52
  • 2
    Fluctuations in exchange rate make very little difference to your life unless your income is in one currency and your expenditure in another. Which shows that applying today's exchange rate to compare salaries doesn't make much sense. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 12:29

I was looking at faculty jobs

why? Are you considering a career in teaching? in research? are you looking to maximize your bank account and retire as a 45 years old? What are your motivations?

the UK has other perks.

Like lower death per gun related crimes constant autumnal weather (hey, someone likes it), a national health service which cares of you even if you are unfit to work while being sick (even if you are without contract from your employee: try to get cancer while a postdoc on 1-year contract in the US system ... the nice and generous health insurance offered by the uni will end as soon as your contract ends)

Why don't you consider moving to Singapore? there the academic salary are among the highest in the world.

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    "constant autumnal weather". Rain IS the best weather, nobody can convince me otherwise.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 18:02
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    I was about to upvote for "lower death per gun related crimes" but though I wish you well and bear you no ill will, I cannot bring myself to upvote an answer presenting the UK's weather as a perk no matter how much I may agree with everything else you write. I have my limits!
    – terdon
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 23:11
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    Unnecessarily condescending tone.
    – SpiderRico
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 7:26
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    @user3037237 so please reformulate your question to yourself, because in the question you pivot your discussion about money, either in form of salary or direct/indirect benefits. What do you find attractive in the UK? There is no need to ask what people loved about it, you are not people, you are you. Additionally, please consider the bias of your statistical sample: in the recent decade there is a number of people that moved from the UK to Syria (mostly to perform act of terrorism) ... ask them what they did not like about UK to have a view on what "people" think about UK.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 10:39
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    @user3037237 I think a lot of it depends on what you personally value in a country. I you are a history nerd you would probably love all the old buildings and historical sites. If you like sunny beaches and warm weather the UK might not be for you. Maybe you could make yourself a list of what you value in a place to live?
    – Squirrel
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 13:13

In any developed nation, and most others, higher faculty are sufficiently well paid to afford you a decent quality of life well above the local median, therefore choosing between jobs in different countries based on the salary rather than just choosing the country you want to live in doesn't seem a particularly compelling idea.

There are many reasons you might prefer the UK to the US, or vice versa, but how you prioritise these reasons is largely personal preference. Equally so for other countries.

  • But that's my whole question -- I don't know if the UK is a place I want to live in because I've never lived there. But I'm totally up for considering it, I just want someone who's lived there (and ideally in the US) to tell me what they loved about it. It's a really simple question, and the one thing people are not doing across all these replies is telling me what they loved about it. Specifically I'm interesting in day to day quality of life. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 9:04
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    @user3037237 That's not really a question that's linked to the nature of the job - you could be outside academia and ask the same. Making the question that broad sounds to me like it would take it off-topic (though I'm not a regular here). Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 9:10
  • @JosephWright That's a fair point. But ideally I'm asking for people that have been faculty there, and if there are any perks related to their job/profession/day-to-day-life. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 9:24
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    @user3037237 In that case, framing your question around salary seems like a mistake. I would ask a different question specifically framed about differences in academic, research, and funding culture in the two countries or whatever it is that particularly interests you. The more general question seems too opinion based. For my part, I would never consider living in the US, and whilst I would have heartily recommended the UK to anyone a decade ago, the country is in a much worse state today and I would no longer do so, especially for immigrants. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 9:42
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    @JonathanReez Where you live, and spend 90% of your life, makes vastly more difference to your happiness and quality of life then whether you're in a 1-star hotel or a 4-star hotel when you're on holiday. Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 15:17

I think your initial premise that US faculty salaries are higher is flawed and looks only at part of the picture. There definitely are US universities and colleges where the starting salary for an assistant professor/ lecturer is 80-100k US$. There are also colleges where the starting salary is more like 30-40k US$. The range of potential salaries in the US is huge and prestigeous universities will pay significantly more than less prestigeous ones.

This happens to a much smaller degree in the UK and even less in continental Europe. The UK system is graded into lecturers, readers and full professors with significant salary differences between these but a reader will have approximately the same salary at every university in the UK.

This means that if you are able to get a position at one of the very good institutions in the US you will earn a much higher nominal salary both compared to an average institution in the US and compared to any university in the UK. If you are not among those select few the UK system might actually offer you a higher salary.

  • Sure, but I specified top-tier universities in big cities. Specifically I'm looking at a job in London, which starts at 60k USD. For comparison, my friend's starting salary at BU in Boston was 95k, yet boston is 15-25% less expensive than London. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 9:06

Some concrete, financial, benefits for the UK salary:

  • The total cost of healthcare is zero (actually, overseas people do have to have to pay a one off charge, but most universities will cover that). Not only does this mean you don't pay your monthly contribution to health insurance (I paid about 10% of my insurance costs when I was a postdoc in Boston), but if you were to get ill, there are no co-pays etc.
  • The pension scheme is very different: the university doesn't match 20%. The university pays 21%, and the employee pays 9% - the university pays in more than twice what the employee pays in. What that gets you is also very different from a 401K scheme common at US universities. The exact offer is the subject of on-going industrial action at the moment in the UK, but which ever side wins, the scheme will be a defined benefit scheme: in retirement you will be paid a guaranteed monthly payment, irrespective of how long you live, or what happens to the economy (this guarantee is ultimately backed by the government). The size of the payment is dependent on how long you work and at what salary. At the moment the offer is 1/65th of your (inflation adjusted) average salary for every year you work.
  • If you are in London it is highly likely you will not need to own a car. This is a massive saving on many peoples outgoings.
  • When I was in the Boston, the sum total of federal, state and property taxes was actually higher than my tax bill in the UK (I guess MA is a high tax state).
  • You get legally guaranteed employment rights from day one, not just paid holidays, but 28 weeks of sick pay, 9 months of parental leave that can be split between the parents (that's just the minimum, most unis give a year). After two years you cannot be sacked without a "legally valid" reason, and are legally entitled to severance pay. After 4 years you are automatically a permanent employee, which means "your contract is up" is no longer a "legally valid" reason.
  • As the employment is full-time 12 months, you will never be expected to fund your own salary, nor your take home pay affected by your ability to bring in research funding.

While this all adds up to the UK salary being worth more in the best case than it first appears, what it really adds up to is it being worth much more than it appears if anything goes wrong in life. The UK job offers more security, including financial security.

  • After two years you cannot be sacked without a "legally valid" reason, and are legally entitled to severance pay. After 4 years you are automatically a permanent employee, which means "your contract is up" is no longer a "legally valid" reason ... plus As the employment is full-time 12 months, you will never be expected to fund your own salary, nor your take home pay affected by your ability to bring in research funding. Yet this never saved your two colleagues who didn't pull in enough research funding, one of whom was a gifted teacher, you say. Something is missing here.
    – Trunk
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 14:16
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    As I said without a "legally valid" reason. Inability to do your job is one such valid reason. However, the process is long and complicated. The employer must show that they've given you specific instructions on what you are doing wrong, and what exactly to do to make it better. What counts as a reasonable expectation would be decided by a judge by reference to normal expectation in the field if you were to bring a claim of unfair dismissal. I believe that processes to dismiss "incompetent" professors technically exist in most US tenure contracts, but are very rarely used. Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 19:33
  • @Trunk So, for example in the two cases you cite my colleagues were on "performance management programs" for well over a year before they were dismissed. Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 19:35
  • So they had at least to part fund their own salaries within so many years under the 40-40-20 effort division? These cases stuck in my mind as it had to be heartbreaking for someone going home with a dismissal letter after giving their all in classes.
    – Trunk
    Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 0:49
  • @Trunk Its tricky - grants here don't tend to explicitly cover much of the PIs salary - maybe 5 or 10%. But of course they come with overheads.... Having a summer without a grant is not going to mean you are not paid, but too long without a grant and your position become difficult to maintain. Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 11:48

Firstly, I see the salaries for junior lecturers being in the range £35,000 - £50,000 which is around $48,000 - $66,000 at current exchange rates. So your estimate of $65,000 is more at the top end of this range than in the average.

While many UK institutions have group health/invalidity/life/childcare/sports/etc benefits, these may vary a lot from one college to another. You would do well to read the fine print of these following an offer.

But to your question as to why - money apart - academics would choose UK over USA positions.

There are reasons that are specific to the field of study the academic engages in such as:

  • UK is the home of English language & literature and a period working and teaching here would be impressive on a resumé for someone involved in that endeavour. A similar case could be made for those involved in history, archaeology, politics, economics, philosophy, etc research centred on or closely related to developments in the UK or even Western Europe.

  • In fields that are declining, e.g. metallurgy, there may be few local applicants and it has become common for UK universities to recruit such faculty from countries with far bigger mineral/metallurgical industries like USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa or Russia.

  • It could happen that the an academic wants to be involved in the research work happening at some UK university department and peer congeniality is worth more - at least for a few years - than salary as they cut their research teeth.

There are also other reasons independent of the academic's field like:

  • USA students are quite challenging verbally in class, expect more assignments (plus feedback), take no pomposity and humbug from professors and thrive on continual engagement. Even for those brought up in US, some may not find this as agreeable as the more detached and generalized way of relating to students that is the norm in UK universities. (Of course there are also some UK-born academics who prefer the American way of education.)

  • There are loads of foreign faculty in UK universities - perhaps even more so than in USA - so academics who like exotic college social lives will really have a good time.

  • Education, health and social security benefits in UK are better in UK. This is important as an academic's own family reach their mid-teens and become a greater expense.

  • Lifestyle and human relationships in the UK suits people who are more reserved and don't want to mix with people purely on the basis of economic status.

  • Housing, especially housing in rural villages outside provincial UK cities, is relatively cheap and academic jobs are seen by bank managers as a good basis for a mortgage: fairly secure, many other expenses part-subsidized and promotion almost certain.

  • Some people are Anglophiles, Formula 1 enthusiasts, horse racing fans, rugby or soccer screamers, etc and find ample outlet for these passions within UK.

I think that it all comes down to what sort of person you are and what your priorities, both in academia and in the community, are that will guide your decision to work in the UK.

Please don't decide on the basis of some brief summer school experience.


If you're American, I don't think there is any particularly good reason to prefer an academic job in the UK. And in my experience there aren't many American academics working at British universities - fewer than there are British academics working at American universities.

However, UK universities have no trouble recruiting strong candidates from Europe, and from the UK itself, for whom there are clear geographical advantages of living at most a short-haul flight away from family. I would happily take a US faculty job if I didn't have family ties to the UK, but since I do it's simply not practical.

  • This is the best answer. Basically unless you're committed to a European lifestyle (see answer by @penelope), there's absolutely no reason imaginable to even consider such a move. Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 0:05

UK universities are willing to hire people who cannot legally work in the USA. Many US universities do not want to hire people who cannot legally work at their location because the application for a work visa is tedious and risky.

In other words, the upside of US salaries is mostly only available to UK faculty who already have a work visa or passport for the US.

US universities may also decide not to interview someone simply to avoid the cost of an international flight.

  • 6
    I doubt top tier US universities are deterred by the cost of an international flight, but I do suspect as you suggest that immigration issues (especially these days) might be a significant filter in both direction: never mind universities not being so keen to step into this web, not every European necessarily would want to work in the US academic system even if they could. Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 20:15
  • @ZeroTheHero Yes, and this answer is about average US universities. It certainly does not apply to the wealthiest 1%. The cost of a flight is a deciding factor when you have many similar applicants. Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 21:16
  • 2
    I cannot imagine that many places would consider the cost of a flight ($1500) an important consideration in hiring someone who you will pay $100+k including fringe benefits for the next 30 years. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 16:46
  • @WolfgangBangerth The search can come from a different budget than the salary. And as I mentioned before, the applicants are often otherwise very similar. Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 17:45

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