Women still face pay gap

Sue Clark

Women academics at Britain's universities earn on average 17 per cent less than their male colleagues. Newly published government figures show that in 2000 male academics were paid an average of GBP669 (HK$7,620)a week gross, while females received GBP113 (HK$1,287) less.

Higher education unions say there is no excuse for the continuing pay inequality between the sexes in universities and colleges which, they claim, amounts to institutionalised discrimination. The 1999 independent Bett report on pay and conditions in higher education reported that it found widespread evidence of female staff in higher education being paid less than male colleagues doing the same job.

Why does the academic gender gap persist? Cost is one important factor. The Bett report estimated that it would cost 2.5 per cent of Britain's institutions' total costs to meet obligations on equal pay for all staff.

A culture of 'jobs for the boys' doesn't help, according to the Association of University Teachers (AUT). Vice-chancellors and other senior managers are still mostly male and only 10 per cent of British professors are women.

Complacency was another barrier to equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said. Julie Mellow, chair of the EOC, said: 'The UK has the worst record in Europe on equal pay. Many employers don't even realise that their pay system could be biased against women.'

There are signs that attitudes are changing and the newly launched Equality Challenge, mounted by university heads and aimed at addressing these issues, has been welcomed by all sides.

But AUT general secretary David Triesman said that although the pay gap had closed, the continued gulf was a serious impediment to achieving equality.