The ACU report on academic salaries across the Commonwealth 2017

Attracting and retaining faculty is a key strategic concern for universities, as a university’s most valuable intellectual asset – its faculty – is responsible for teaching the next generation and conducting research that enhances their institution’s profile and revenue.

Staff recruitment and retention is particularly pressing for Commonwealth countries facing staff shortages due to ageing workforces and difficulties in keeping up with an expansion of HE provision. An increased focus on HEI’s international profile and standing makes international staff mobility even more important. Whilst not simply a question of remuneration, ensuring that salaries and benefits are both domestically and internationally attractive, is an important benchmark for HEIs and education ministries, and one to which the ACU has devoted much attention.

Highlights from the data

  • South African institutions offer the highest overall average salaries compared to other countries in the survey when cost of living is accounted for.
  • Using the market exchange rate, Australian overall average salaries are the highest compared to other countries in the survey.
  • Malaysian overall average take-away salaries are higher than salaries offered in the United Kingdom.
  • Average take-away salaries for Professors and Associate Professors in Indian institutions are on par with salaries for these ranks in the United Kingdom.
  • South African and Indian institutions have the highest average salaries compared to national GDP per capita.

ACU Measures

The ACU conducts the only ongoing survey of academic salaries in Commonwealth countries. By integrating this with our online benchmarking service – ACU Measures – participating members can compare annual salary scales, average salaries, and associated benefits with selected groups of institutions (such as by region, country or type of institution).

To illustrate how ACU Measures can be used (as it is mainly a tool for members to use themselves), we take a closer look at the results[1] from the 2017 ACU Measures survey on academic salaries. In addition, our own analysis adds further context and detail, for example by contrasting salary scales and actual take-away salaries or looking at how academic salaries compare to national wealth.

Academic salaries 2017

Findings from the 2017 survey indicate that South African institutions offer the highest overall average salaries[2] – both in terms of salary scales and actual take-away salaries[3] – at all academic ranks, except for entry level salaries for Professors, where Australian institutions offer comparatively higher salaries.  Overall, South African institutions also experienced among the highest increases of average salaries from 2016 at 5.8% (See Table 1). However, South Africa is marked by institutional differentiation in pay, considerable disparities in wealth and high levels of inflation (and associated currency fluctuations), which make comparative salary values more volatile than for other countries.

Table 1: Overall average salaries (incl. prof. rank) 2017[4]


Overall average salaries in the United Kingdom remain comparatively lower than other countries, and are surpassed by both New Zealand and Malaysian institutions, for scales as well as take-away salaries (see Table 1). This coincides with low levels of salary increases compared with 2016 (0.7% for scales and 2% for take-away salaries), and is consistent with a longer trend of low salary increases in the UK, with the annual average percentage change over the past 10 years at 0.1% (see Figure 1)[5].

Figure 1: Percentage (%) change in overall average salaries 2007-2017[6]


Findings also indicate that average take-away salaries are well above the salary scales in all countries except South Africa. India stands out in this regards, with take-away salaries at 20% above the scales, and particularly noticeable at the higher academic ranks, putting the salaries for Professors and Associate Professors on par with salaries for these ranks in the United Kingdom (see Figure 2 and Figure 3). At the same time, and similarly to South Africa, there appears to be large pay disparities within Indian institutions, with Professorial salaries more than double that of Lecturers. India also recorded the highest overall salary increases (7.4%), especially at the higher academic ranks, further enhancing the pay disparities between higher and lower academic positions.

Figure 2: Average take-away (median) salaries by academic rank 2017[7]


Figure 3: Overall average take-away (median) and scale salaries (incl. prof. rank) 2017[8]


Table 1 (above) also illustrates the considerable difference that cost of living (as expressed using PPP conversion rates) can have on the value of salaries. South Africa stands out in this regard, at once coming out on top using the PPP rates, but dropping below Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom when using the market exchange rate. This might have implications when trying to attract international faculty, for whom the international value of salaries (as determined by market exchange rates) may be an important factor.

The use of PPP goes some way to account for the domestic economic context, adjusting the relative value of salaries accordingly. However, we have also related average salaries to the overall wealth of countries by comparing them to GDP per capita. In all countries, average salaries (both scales and take-away salaries) are higher than GDP per capita, which is not surprising, as academic staff are among the most highly educated and qualified in any society. However, the margin of difference in India and South Africa dwarfs that of other countries, with academic pay over 7 times per capita GDP; with other countries having a ratio of between 1.7 and 2.7 per capita GDP. This stark difference reflects high levels of income inequality in these countries, both in absolute terms and compared to other countries and confirms some the disparities found within institutions in these countries.

Find out more about ACU Measures and share your data in this year’s benchmarking survey

Institutions that have already taken part can compare and explore salary differences further using a range of tools in ACU Measures. Read our guide to find out more.


[1] The 2017 ACU Measures survey on academic salaries received responses from 104 institutions in 22 countries across the Commonwealth. The results in this blog focus on Australasia, Europe (mainly the UK) and southern Asia and Africa, as these regions received the highest response rates, and from which many countries have participated in multiple surveys (and pre-dating 2014, when ACU Measures was opened up to the entire ACU membership).

[2] Salaries are converted into US$ using the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) conversion factor devised by the World Bank for its World Development Indicators. This provides a more accurate picture of the comparative domestic value of the salaries by taking into account its equivalent purchasing power, and, by extension, the relative cost of living  Unless otherwise stated, salary averages are stated in PPP US$. Where specified other conversion factors (such as the market exchange rate) are used for the purpose of comparative analysis.

[3] The overall averages for scales are derived from the arithmetic mean of the top and bottom of the scales for the following ranks: Professor, Associate Professor, Senior Lecturer, Lecturer and Assistant Lecturer. The measure used for take-away salaries in this analysis is the (overall) Median salary.

[4] Table 1, source: ACU Measures – 2017 Salaries and Benefits survey

[5] Please note that this does not take into account inflation for the years covered. 

[6] Figure 1, source: ACU’s Academic staff salary surveys (2006-07, 2009-10 and 2012-13), ACU Measures Salaries and Benefits surveys (2014, 2016 and 2017). These percentages are based on the overall country midpoint averages (of salary scales) including the professorial rank), converted into PPP US$ using World Bank Indicators. We have used the midpoints of the scales in order to keep consistency with previous surveys (pre-2014). ACU Measures also allows for the creation of time-series, with the option to view percentage change from previous years. This means that HEIs can benchmark their performance over time, demonstrating impact of managerial changes. 

[7] Figure 2, source: ACU Measures – 2017 Salaries and Benefits survey

[8] Figure 3, source: ACU Measures – 2017 Salaries and Benefits survey

Figure 2: Average take-away (median) salaries by academic rank 2017[1]

[1] Figure 2, source: ACU Measures – 2017 Salaries and Benefits survey

Last modified on 09/04/2018