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I'm looking at faculty ads for computer science in the UK and noticed that the average salary range seems to be significantly lower compared to the US. Typically, a starting Lecturer ( = Assistent Professor) can expect an annual salary in the range of only 35k - 42k GPD which is in the range of 55k - 66k USD.

On the other hand, if I look at the academic job market in the US, then this would be considered an average PostDoc salary at best, whereas the lower limit for computer science assistant professors seems to be around 80k. Considering that faculty gets this amount for 9 months in the US rather than 12 as in the UK and taking into account the higher income tax rates of the UK, this gap becomes significantly big.

Does the UK system include certain perks that the US system does not have that I'm missing here?

Are there other ways that UK faculty can make up for this quite significant gap?

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    You may have overestimated assistant professor pay in the US. chronicle.com/article/2013-14-AAUP-Faculty-Salary/… – Anonymous Physicist Nov 26 '14 at 1:09
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    It may be unique to CS. In science fields 60k$ salary for a PostDoc or 80k$ for an Assistant Prof is pretty high. – Greg Nov 26 '14 at 1:53
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    In some places unions require all disciplines to be paid the same amount. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 26 '14 at 5:03
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    Well, if you use similar "research method", the CS assistant professor salaries in the US, they are mostly bellow 70k: indeed.com/jobs?q=assistant+professor+computer+science&l= You guys are comparing apples with oranges: advertised salary and actual average income can be very different. Negotiation process can be very different. Also, it makes no sense to compare two countries when practically all professional salaries in the UK are lower (salarywise , academia still can be pretty competitive). – Greg Nov 26 '14 at 7:16
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    Does the UK system include certain perks that the US system does not have that I'm missing here? Not having to pay for health insurance? – Ben Webster Feb 15 '16 at 19:15
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You are trying to compare a US salary to a UK salary using the current exchange rate. I do not think this is particularly relevant. Even if you are willing to ignore differences between the UK and US in terms of work/life balance, teaching load, and job security, you probably want to compare the quality of life that a salary buys you and not what would happen if you converted it to USD. The starting salary for a CS lecturer/assistant professor, when converted to USD, is much lower for a UK academic than a US academic, but there are differences between the value of a US and UK salary.

While you say the UK tax rate is higher, that is a huge over simplification. Two random online tax calculators I used gave a US income tax of 24% on an 80,000 USD salary and a UK income tax of 25% on a 42,000 GBP salary. This ignores US state (and possibly city) income tax. The UK VAT of 20% is much higher than typical US sales taxes, but not everything is subject to VAT/sales tax. Even if you can accurately calculate an average total tax liability, you still need to account for purchasing power.

I have work in both the US and UK in comparable cites (not NYC/London) and tend to think that the value of my UK salary is a little lower than value of my US salary. It is worth noting that UK salaries are much more consistent across fields. This means that I make the same as a CS lecturer in the UK, but that in the US I would probably be making 10% less than a CS assistant professor. My guess is that for CS there is a substantial, maybe 15%, hit in quality of life that an academic salary buys.

In the US your starting salary is often your salary until you get tenure/promotion while in the UK you get a larger salary every year. There is a performance based pay raise, that essentially everyone gets, which is generally about 2.5%. This means the gap between the US and UK values gets smaller every year and after 6 years, when one is preparing to be promoted, the gap is pretty small. Further, UK salaries also have a cost of living adjustment. For the past few years this has been about 0.5-2% and less than the inflation, but it wouldn't surprise me if the union negotiates a big salary bump, maybe 10%, in the next few years. This would really close the gap.

It is also worth noting that a US assistant professor is not directly equivalent to a UK lecturer. I think a US assistant professor is often a few years ahead in terms of productivity and experience.

  • My experience is limited, but I think it's actually pretty common in the US as well for faculty to receive a small raise each year across the board, though it it not always as large as 2.5%. (This year at my institution it was 1%.) It may happen in some years that the institution can't afford to do this due to budget shortfalls, etc, but this is usually seen as an abberation (if a common one) rather than normal. – Nate Eldredge Nov 26 '14 at 15:00
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    @StrongBad : looking at the developments since this post, it seems that the increases negotiated by the union are well below the projected inflation rate (2.5%). Do you still feel that the gap is not as significant as the original poster indicated? – Peter Jul 23 '16 at 15:28
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    @Peter I say in my answer that the annual cost of living adjustment is less than inflation. I still have hope that the UCU can negotiate a substantial pay raise, but they are currently fighting attacks on faculty pensions, job security, and job responsibilities. The OP is suggesting something like a salaries in the UK are 40% less than salaries in the US. I still do not think that is a reasonable assessment. – StrongBad Jul 27 '16 at 16:52
  • @StrongBad, I see, thank you for the clarification! – Peter Jul 29 '16 at 12:52
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Comparing salaries internationally based on currency conversion is never meaningful because it ignores differences in cost of living, tax rates and so on. I have always found it more productive to compare salaries based on ratio to average full time earnings when I am considering moving countries. That is, I assume the local economy is such that someone who is working full time can afford decent housing and lifestyle. This is not always true (London!) but is reasonable because a city would usually collapse if people couldn't live there with a job.

Using the tried and true method of a quick google search, I couldn't find individual earnings, but US average household income was 41 355 USD and UK was 27 029 USD in the same unstated year OECD report. Based on your estimate of UK salary at 60k USD, that is about 2.2 times average household income, which is actually higher than the 1.9 ratio for your figure for US.

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    +1. This seems to be the only answer which explicitly points out the need to compare salaries in academia with salaries in the country itself (and not just against tax rates, etc) -- although tbf I think one of the comments to the main question also mentions this point – Yemon Choi May 5 '16 at 0:44
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Let me give you some first hand insights from someone who did her PostDoc and a PhD in the US respectively Europe and then got hired as a computer science Lecturer three years ago in the London area.

Short Answer: The academic salaries in the UK are in no way competitive to salaries in the US even when considering only the 9 months US salaries. In some disciplines (e.g. computer science) a US PostDoc salary enables a better lifestyle than a UK Lecturer salary.

The Long Version

Salary scales are evil. In my opinion, the main reason for the low UK salaries is the "salary scale" system, which is the same for all public universities. Yep, that's right: It won't matter if you have snatched an offer from Imperial/Oxford/Cambridge or, for example, from a much lesser ranked institutions such as the London Metropolitan University, you will roughly earn between 38k-45k GBP a year as a starting Lecturer.

It also does not matter if you are based in a less popular area where you can rent a two bedroom house for as little as 600 GBP a month or in central London where you will have troubles finding a room in a shared flat for the same price. (I am not exaggerating, feel free to check the data. To be fair, the London universities offer a "London allowance" in addition to the base salary which adds 2k-3k per year amounting to maybe around 100 GBP extra per month after deductions - note that these allowances were fixed back in the 90s and are rarely increased ever since.)

Why am I saying that salary scales are evil? The problem is that some of the more reputable institutions would be able (and maybe even willing) to offer their staff higher compensation. But having salary scales essentially requires the scale adjustments to match the amount that is affordable for even the least endowed institution.

In my case, taking up the Lecturer (Uk) job after doing a PostDoc (US) means that I'm struggling to even afford the lifestyle that I had as a PostDoc. Compared to a US assistant professor it feels that I am earning 50% less. Again, this is not an exaggeration and a simply calculation by checking the UK academic salary data and factoring in the cost of living. [My university is frequently ranked among the top ones for computer science in the UK thus for others this might be even worse.]

The projection of "closing the gap between UK and US salaries" due to the union's salary negotiations as outlined in the accepted answer by @StrongBad is wishful thinking: Last year's increase was 1% and this year the so called improved offer amounts to 1.1%. Strike actions by the union had no effect whatsoever.

Recommendation:
Stay clear of the UK academic market especially when looking for an entry level position. The situation is slightly better for higher ranked positions such as Reader or (Full) Professor.

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    Bear in mind that the cost of living in London is extremely high. Stratospherically high. Advising somebody to avoid the UK academic market because London is too expensive for anyone but the super-rich to live in comfortably is a bit like advising them to avoid the US academic market because Manhattan is too expensive. – David Richerby Jul 23 '16 at 11:16
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    Also, your answer is factually incorrect. Academic salaries in London are higher than the rest of the country. There is also a good deal of latitude where on the pay scale somebody starts, which means that the universities do have a fair amount of flexibility in this regard. – David Richerby Jul 23 '16 at 11:17
  • @DavidRicherby I acknowledge the point about London weighting, but it seems to me (although I don't live there) that it is insufficient to offset the factors in your first comment. (Just leaving this comment for benefit of future readers) – Yemon Choi Jul 23 '16 at 14:07
  • I notice, on 2nd reading, that Mira1983 did already mention London weighting in her answer – Yemon Choi Jul 23 '16 at 14:09
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    @DavidRicherby: I agree with you that the post focuses too much on London. That said, the UK does have a high concentration of many prestigious institutions in (or in the vicinity of) London such as Oxford and Cambridge and the cost of living there seems to be almost as high as in central London: timeshighereducation.com/features/… Also, while institutions do have some flexibility regarding the placement on the pay scale, as soon as you hit the top of the Lecturer range, you will no longer progress until you get promoted – Peter Jul 23 '16 at 20:02
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It also depends largely on your discipline. Computer science is likely to make far more (especially starting out) than say history or languages, here in the U.S anyway. The STEM disciplines are doing very well right now but my experience (and among other junior faculty colleagues across the country) is that $80K is well above average starting salary. If you are making $80 starting out, be very happy about it- you are one of the lucky few.

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    Hi, and welcome to Academia.SE! Unfortunately, I'm not sure how your answer pertains to the question, which is about UK salaries, not US salaries. – jakebeal Feb 15 '16 at 15:32
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Salaries (of any job - not just academic) are usually due to a number of reasons - 1) The demand for that job 2) the number of applicants 3) The value that the employer puts to that job / person 4) How much the employer can afford (sometimes but not always related to 3 above) 5) What the employer can get away with

In case of UK, I think (5) plays a more prominent role than the other 4 reasons. The annual salary for lecturers tends to start at £ 31,000 with very low increments. After taxes, and contributions to insurance etc, this yields around £ 1800 per month, which admittedly is a pretty miserly sum when one considers that at least half of this is spent on rent.

1) Demand for a lecturers job - is fairly moderate / low. There tend to be a few jobs advertised - but most of them are the result of disgruntled lecturers leaving. Very few jobs are being created due to additional departments or growing numbers of students. Unlike countries like China and India where going to college is the norm for people of all classes (and hence people save for college since the child is a toddler), it is not so in UK. Education is not a priority for the average UK citizen. This simply lowers the number of students further.

2) Number of applicants - Actually, due to the above stated reason, there are a rather limited number of British citizens available for faculty positions. However, this tends to be compensated by educated people from EU, and sometimes from Asia. While British teachers consider it their right to be paid fair wages, and demand them, this is not always so for their EU and Asian counterparts. The result supports reason (5).

3) The value that the employer puts to that job / person Is quiet high. Education is a big business in the UK and lecturers are among the most important cogs in this apparatus. However, one always needs to assert this importance to prove it in the UK (not just in academic, but in many other professions too except perhaps for banking, financial services, real estate and politics). Student feedback is taken regularly and published openly (however, only around 20-30% students actually respond to these official surveys thus limiting the visibility of good lecturers in the larger scope of education)

4) How much the employer can afford - Unlike many other sectors where employers genuinely cannot afford to pay more, universities are not so. They earn rather well, and the fees paid by EU/UK as well as overseas students tend to be to the tune of £ 8,000-£ 11,000 annually in an ordinary university. At UCL and Cass, it is even higher and to the tune of £ 15,000-18,000.

These tuition fees cannot be directly compared to tuition fees in USA and other countries as actual classroom lecture hours in the UK in most universities are lower than their counterparts in USA - as low as 12-16 hours per week for a Masters level course, and just 20 hours for under graduates per student per week.

Also, Universities tend to pay far lower rates for rents, gas and electricity than their business house counterparts.

5) What the employer can get away with- Sadly (for lecturers - and hence students, as good lecturers tend to leave) and happily (for deans, and upper level management), universities in UK have been able to get away with low salaries. The fact that the lowest median wage in the UK is even lower makes it that much easier for universities to escape scot free. The fact that the number of British students attending classes in UK is so low, means that this is not an issue to the British voter currently. You will recollect that none of the campaigns last year said that they would try to improve the education system for British people.

And hence, UK faculty salaries are so low.

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    You're not answering the question "Why are UK faculty salaries so low?". – scaaahu Jul 5 '16 at 7:56
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    £1800/month is not a "pretty miserly sum", your points 1) and 2) are not true, and also your points 4) and 5) don't take into account the fact that the fees used to be 3-4 times lower just a few years back. So, in its current form, your post is more of a rant than a proper explanation. – 101010111100 Jul 5 '16 at 11:19
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    £1800: I appreciate your comment, but would like to know the rationale for your disagreement. A faculty member in UK would usually spend 44-55% salary on rent, and the rest on food and utilities, leavign little for his/her savings / children's education / expenses. Hence it woudl be miserly compared to other countries where salaries may be low, but rents are not so exceptionally high. – Ashutosh Rana Jul 5 '16 at 12:19
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    Unless you live in Cambridge, Central London, or any of the other expensive places, rent shouldn't be that high. Bills and food are not really expensive. So, the combined income of two adults should be enough for a family life. But all of this is off-topic, so... – 101010111100 Jul 5 '16 at 12:39
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    Point (3) is incorrect and unclear: first, I don't understand what this point is meant to say. Second, it is not universally true that student feedback is made public. – Dilworth Jul 24 '16 at 0:24

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