Canada’s professors are highest paid in the world, new study finds

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Not long ago we pointed you to a report that ranked three Canadian universities among the top 25 in the world, as rated by academics around the globe. I'm beginning to wonder if last week's revelation that Canadian professors are, on average, the best paid in the world might have something to do with it.

A joint research project by Boston College's Center for International Higher Education and the Laboratory for Institutional Analysis at Moscow's Higher School of Economics compared academic salaries in 28 countries on five continents. It's being billed as the most extensive comparative study of academic salaries done so far, which ought to make it definitive. Research done by local experts was fed through a standardized purchasing-power formula so countries in different economic and cultural situations could be compared.

"Studies on academic mobility and brain drain/gain may...benefit from this study because it will be a tool to understand not only the monetary aspect of the academic profession, but other elements that cannot be illustrated in an strictly quantitative study," the project researchers say.

"At the local level this study is also a valuable contribution because for many countries this is the first time that a study like this is conducted and made available."

A table from the study published in the Toronto Star showed that Canadian academics on average earn $7,196 a month, putting them at the top of the 28-country list. Italian profs are second in line, pulling down $6,955 a month, followed by South African academics at $6,531. Indian profs are fourth, earning $6,070 monthly, ahead of Americans who come in slightly behind at $6,054. Professors in China are third from the bottom, earning just $720 a month, but they're ahead of their Russian colleagues who get $617, while profs in Armenia earn the least — $538.

The study covers publicly-funded universities, not private colleges.

Recent budget pressures among provincial governments have prompted calls to rein in post-secondary salaries, the Star noted, but those who oppose the idea say fat pay and benefit packages help attract top brains to teach in Canada.

"In an increasingly international labour market, it's good to offer strong compensation," Prof. Glen Jones of the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, who was part of the study's Canadian research team, told the Star.

"Canadian professors work hard, they're productive and they're one of the reasons our universities are relatively well ranked, and unlike other jurisdictions, their full-time tenure stream is still strong."

In a bid to compete with American schools for the best-qualified teachers, salaries rose by 46 per cent between 2001 and 2009, three times the years' 16 per cent inflation rate, according to Statistics Canada. The fact that most Canadian campuses are unionized also factors into the higher pay scales, Jones noted.

The fifth-place U.S. finish prompted Boston College's Philip Altbach, one of the study's leaders, to conclude that American schools were no longer paying enough to lure the top people.

"You can tell the health of a higher education system by whether it can recruit the best and brightest within society," Altbach told the U.K.-based Times Higher Education magazine, which produced the rankings of the world's universities that placed Canadian schools in the top 25.