Thursday, 20 July 2017

Full disclosure

The BBC salaries report has prompted me to do something I've had in mind for quite some time. I read a while ago that (now ex-)Google employee Erica Baker found the limits of her employer's openness when she circulated a spreadsheet with her salary on it, inviting others to join in.

All companies like to be secretive about salaries. This is partly because those in the magic circle get inflated salaries and bonus payments which are often way out of line with those awarded to the workforce, and partly because employees sharing their salaries leads to muttering in the ranks. This is certainly the case in HE. My VC's last recorded pay rise was of the order of 20%, in pursuit of the 'industry average': in my 8 years as a full-time academic I have never had a pay rise that exceeded inflation. In my four years as an elected staff governor, pay was never discussed in detail and I was excluded from the Renumeration Committee that decides on senior salaries, performance bonuses, and the university's stance on the the national pay award for teaching staff. The only fact I managed to establish was that senior management salaries are calculated after a confidential survey of management salaries across the sector, meaning that as long as they all stick together, there's never a chance of a below-inflation rise or a cut.

So here it is: my salary.

£48, 327.

I am 42, and have had a full-time academic job since 2008, when I was 32. At the moment I'm a Senior Lecturer and a Course Leader (i.e. I do all the validation and organisation for a couple of degrees but I don't manage people). Before that I took a long time to do an MA and a PhD, and taught as an hourly-paid lecturer in six different subject areas for 8 years. When things were tough, I did some supply teaching, which is why I admire teachers so much and feel so guilty about my behaviour in school. Well, some of it anyway. I also had a £6000 annual scholarship to do my PhD.

If you think 32 is late, the generations of academics behind me have it far worse. Being on a selection panel for an entry-level lecturing job was shaming: every single applicant had achieved more in terms of research, while doing huge amounts of teaching, while never having had a full-time job, a permanent job, or even a full-year job.

Salaries are not as transparent as they look either. Some academics negotiate, while others aren't aware it's possible, and there are ethnic and gendered aspects to this. I was once sitting next to a colleague who was offered a proper contract after working with us for years. To his enormous credit, the associate dean on the end of the phone talked her into accepting a higher salary than was technically on offer. I was also lucky: I'd taught for years in so many areas before the possibility of a part-time job came up that I quaveringly asked whether my length of service might justify making me a senior lecturer, and the panel agreed. I doubt this would ever happen now.

How do I feel about my salary? I feel rich. The average UK salary last year was £27,600. I live in a very poor area, so the gap is far wider. I have benefitted from being middle-class, white and male: lacking any one of these characteristics would result in a sharp drop: lacking all three dramatically reduces earning potential.

I do have other feelings about my salary, and they're mostly comparative. I work in a sector where managements work very hard to make sure that academic salaries fall behind while their own converge with industry. That annoys me. I feel that the long years of earning little or nothing (and therefore not contributing to a pension) and having no job security simply to acquire the qualifications and experience needed should be reflected in academic salaries. I'm also aware that this is my peak salary: the elevator stopped long ago, and insecurity is once more afield. I work hard to remind myself that my salary is way in excess of my neighbours and what most of my students will get, and that I don't even have a family to support. I mitigate the guilt by happily paying every tax I can, and by making sure that those earning less than me never buy the coffees: that's how it was when I had no money, and I'm just passing it on.

I also feel that I work hard for my salary. I have contracted hours, and they're officially exceeded by a significant amount every year, and unofficially exceeded by even more. Then there's the emotional labour involved in this kind of work: we don't just teach and write, we provide intellectual, cultural and emotional support to students and colleagues in ways that can't be quantified. The strong bonds between us means that there's a culture of overwork which is never acknowledged. It's true, however, that within a neoliberalised social system, being a lecturer in English Literature and a researcher in Welsh literatures is a luxury good. It shouldn't be, but it is.

So there we are. That's what I earn. I'm lucky to work in a sector with a national pay bargaining unit, and resigned to the ever-widening gap between my colleagues and our overseers. I'm conscious of the class, racial and gender bonus included in my salary. I don't aspire to riches, simply to security. I spend my money on books and train travel, and lust over extremely expensive bikes that I'll never be able to afford. I'd happily pay more tax and see a more level salary landscape, but I also think that there are a lot of people taking home a lot more tax for doing less useful work.

Don't feel you have to share your salary too - but do add your observations in the comments.


Anonymous said...

This is one of your very best posts - not trying to make clever points (although I do enjoy your rants about Paul Uppal), just complete honesty about how you feel concerning your salary and what you do to earn it. Although my salary is less than half yours, it would be hard to begrudge you what is, after all, a fraction of the VC's stipend, and clearly you earn every penny. Your students are lucky.

Anonymous said...

I don't really mind sharing my salary. I'm not an academic but a "teaching technician" - a role requiring a PhD and encouraging the completion of a PGCertHE. I design modules and labs, teach, demonstrate, and help to set up and clear off after teaching labs. My annual salary is £35k. I work at a university in London. Like you, I feel rich, but that's because I got here through a circuitous route of various jobs. After my first post-doc (£24k) I tried to be a TEFL teacher for a while (£10/hour teaching hours only), and then moved on to working in publishing (Editorial assistant - £18k and commissioning editor (£20k? I had to fight to get this, as they promoted me without a pay rise). I then went back to do another post-doc and then found my current job. In general, I don't care what others are paid as I try to keep myself to myself, focusing on what I do and what I think it's worth. However, I think I underestimate the value of my work. I had a quick peek at the UCU's FOI data about vice chancellor's salaries: my VC makes £591k. That's insane money. How can anybody's work be that valuable? Hmmm. But I love my job - it suits me to a tee. I enjoy sharing my passion for science and I care a lot about supporting our students. I feel a fairly deep emotional investment in their success. The fact that most of them have to work in order to study is something I admire a lot. When I was a student, nobody needed to work, time was plentiful, and study fees were low.

Anonymous said...

In my last role was in a private business school in London working withing the careers team and in this role I earnt £52K (but almost no pension...). I recently moved to a private technology company and negotiated a salary of £60k (the maximum someone in a UK regular university in London will get for a careers role), and I'll get a bonus during the year too.

That is the result of five years study at university, two professional qualifications on the job, and I'm in the midst of more training now.

Anonymous said...

A great, demystifying post which mirrors my own experience - and a lot more to say potentially on what's changed since you/we entered sector - worth pitching to Guardian Higher Ed for wider dissemination?

Anonymous said...

I am a professional librarian and age 42. Working in a public library with no pay rise at all for a number of years. Recently been told we have to take a few days off unpaid which again cuts my salary down to ribbons. I walk five miles to work and five miles back to save travel costs. I work many hours over my contracted hours as I have been given other people's responsibilities (they left and the post was not refilled). It's a lovely profession that makes a difference to people's lives but the pay is depressing as It is only paying bills and a costa coffee once a week is my treat-but only until DEcember when council employees will no longer be able to claim a discount. 30k is but a dream! I am considering cleaning jobs on weekends to boost my income.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a frank and revealing account of one not the hidden byways of our profession - and because it's hidden, as you lucidly show, liable to abuse and bias.

I write as a beneficiary of a system where a word can be had in someone's ear - in my case, a well-placed colleague intervened on my behalf, and I was given a 25% pay increase overnight, handed over by the VC themselves. I felt absurd and mildly guilty, but took the money anyway. If there is a moral to the story, I regret to say it's to have influential friends in high places....

Anonymous said...

first time reader. This is super. Please keep it up.