The recent industrial action taken by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) has given the issue of academic pay high prominence in the UK press. There appears to be a remarkable consensus that higher education academic salaries are too low, relative to other groups of workers in the UK, and that this is leading to an academic ‘brain drain’. There is concern that this in turn will result in lower quality higher education, as universities fail to attract the ‘brightest and the best’. To rise above the rhetoric, there is a pressing need for robust evidence on relative academic salaries. In this paper, we compare the salaries of Higher Education teaching professionals in the United Kingdom with those of other comparable professionals. We offer evidence on relative salaries in HE academia over the last decade or so and we compare academic salaries to a range of different comparator groups, including some specific occupational groupings that one might view as more similar, in terms of unobserved characteristics, to academics. We then consider the extent to which the gap between the earnings of HE academics and that of other occupations is attributable to differences in the characteristics of academics, for example the fact that they are more highly educated on average, or to differences in the price paid for a given set of characteristics. We conclude that HE teaching professionals earn somewhat lower earnings than most public sector graduates and do particularly poorly compared to most other comparable professionals; they also work longer hours than most. In particular, academic earnings compare poorly to those in the legal professions, consultants physicians and dental practitioners (across both the public and private sectors). On the other hand, there are groups of public sector workers that do worse than HE academics, and in particular FE academics earn significantly less
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