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12 July 2006

Equality gap narrowing in higher education

A rising proportion of women are being employed in academic posts, reveals the first workforce framework for higher education in England, compiled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The report 'The higher education workforce in England: A framework for the future' a proportional growth in academic staff from non-white ethnic backgrounds and staff from overseas in the total academic workforce. Overall, the workforce has increased by 20 per cent over the 10 year period, 1995-2005 and the total number of full-time equivalent academic staff has grown over the period by nearly 17,000 to 97,000.

More women in post

The proportion of women in academic posts has risen by 9 percentage points to 36 per cent over the same 10-year period. The proportion of women professors has doubled over this time span although from a low starting point from 9 per cent to 19 per cent. The indications are that this upward trend will continue (although there is a long lead time as few academics are appointed to professorial posts before their mid 30s). This improvement in career progression for women could be the result of rising proportions of women attending higher education institutions (HEIs) through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Ethnic increase

There is also a rising trend in the proportion of academic staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, rising by 2 percentage points to 8 per cent of the total. This growth can mainly be attributed to an increase in the numbers of Asian staff, most notably Indian and Chinese. HEIs are now recruiting in a global marketplace and this is reflected in the increasingly multi-national academic workforce. The largest increase in staff from overseas is in those groups from Eastern and Central Europe. In terms of subject, the proportion of permanent academic staff who were non-UK nationals was highest in physics, mathematics and engineering 15 per cent in each and computing at 16 per cent.

Informed picture

HEFCE Acting Chief Executive Steve Egan said:

'The Council has completed this first framework for the higher education workforce in England to help inform universities and colleges on workforce issues as part of their own strategic planning to meet future challenges. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills asked us to do this to create an informed picture of the total public sector workforce and we intend to update the framework annually.'

In total there were 284,000 people employed in 130 HEIs in England in 2004-05 including professional and support staff as well as academic employees. This represents more than 1 per cent of the total workforce in the UK.

Flexible systems of reward

The large rise in the total number of academic staff over the last 10 years reflects the growth in higher education. Whilst HEIs generally manage their recruitment well, there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff in certain subject areas such as law, business and management, economics, accounting, computing/information technology and health subjects all occupations in strong demand in the wider labour market. In response, HEIs have become increasingly flexible with innovative systems of reward that enable them to attract and retain good quality staff.

Growth in earnings

The report reveals that according to the Office of National Statistics, the average annual salary of full-time higher education teaching professionals (excluding researchers) was £40,657 in April 2005. The average salary for all full-time academic staff (including researchers) was £35,949 in 2004-05. This compares with national average earnings from the same survey of £28,210 for all full-time employees, and £36,894 for all professional occupations. The minimum starting salary for a lecturer in a university is £24,352 from 1 August 2005. Professors can earn between £44,818 and £200,000 per annum. Average earnings for academic staff have increased by 20 per cent since new pay negotiating machinery was introduced in 2000-01.

Inequalities in pay

The breakdown of pay by gender for academic staff shows the mean salary for male academics is some £5,000 more than for female academics. Some 18 per cent of men earn more than £50,000, but only 6 per cent of women, reflecting the lower proportion of women professors or those holding senior posts. The introduction of a national pay framework with equal pay bodies will be addressing some of these current inequalities in pay.