Durham’s gender pay gap

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Durham University’s gender pay gap remains unchanged since 2018/19 at 27.9%. This is the largest gender pay gap of any Russell Group university. The data also shows that women only make up 37.1% of Durham’s highest paid employees, compared to 66% of the University’s lowest paid quartile. This isn’t a fact that Stuart Corbridge would want to brag about, but it is one that is symptomatic of the wider problem of the commercialisation of the higher education sector, which has let universities off the hook for paying their senior management large sums whilst the lowest paid staff, many of whom are women, have faced threats to their jobs and their pay.

[blockquote author=”” ]With Stuart Corbridge stepping down in 2021, the University has an opportunity to put a woman into its highest paid position.[/blockquote]

Higher education is one of the worst culprits for gender pay gaps. British universities, on average, report a higher gender pay gap than the national average. But it’s not just British universities which are guilty. The European Commission estimates that women only make up 24% of senior academic positions, despite making up 48% of graduates across EU member states. At one Dutch university, just 15% of professors were female. The Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) has now taken on a radical approach to its gender imbalance: it has pledged to only hire women across all academic departments until 30% of the staff in each department are women.

The University of Essex has also taken bold steps towards erasing its gender pay gap. In 2017, it gave its female professors a one-off salary hike. The approaches of TUE and the University of Essex have focused predominantly on the most senior women at the universities. Durham also has a chance to follow this approach. With Stuart Corbridge stepping down in 2021, the University has an opportunity to put a woman into its highest paid position, and one would hope that this could result in the University putting a little more energy into reducing Durham’s gender pay gap than the University’s current leadership has done.

However, reducing the gender pay gap is not as simple as merely raising the salaries of the most senior female academics or planting a woman into the top job. Analysis carried out by the Political Studies Association found that the universities with the highest paid Vice-Chancellors, on average, had a wider mean gender pay gap. Interestingly, it also found that the gender of the Vice-Chancellor and the number of female members who sit on university governance bodies affected neither the mean gender pay gap nor the proportion of women in the top quartile of pay. Cleary, the gender pay gap is not just a numbers game.

Gender pay gaps in the higher education sector are undoubtedly affected by the large disparities in pay between the university’s most senior members and its most junior. The strategies of many universities, including the University of Essex and TUE, haven’t accounted for the fact that universities are made up of more than their academic staff, and that the non-academic staff who work in lower paid admin or service roles are massively undervalued.

[blockquote author=”” ]Increasing the number of women in higher paid roles does not address the wider issue in higher education.[/blockquote]

66% of Durham’s lowest paid quartile are women. These are the people who would have faced the prospect of job losses and had their hours cut by the now shelved BPR2 scheme. Since the University rolled out the first phase of this scheme last year, they have sent a clear signal to the lowest paid staff that they do not value their labour, and that if money needs to be saved, their jobs are disposable, all whilst the Vice-Chancellor’s pay increased by £10,000 to almost £300,000 in 2018.

When universities are run like businesses, where large pay cheques are handed out to executives and low paid workers are seen as nothing more than labour which can become disposable at any moment, it does not benefit women. Increasing the number of women in higher paid roles does not address the wider issue in higher education of the large gap between the pay of university executives and the rest of the university community. If you narrow this gap, the gender pay gap might just narrow with it.

Image by UN Women. Available via Flickr.

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