Vast varsity pay gap exposed

Back pay: Apartheid's legacy has been laid bare by the figures published in a Higher Education South Africa report. (Brian Snyder,Reuters)

Back pay: Apartheid's legacy has been laid bare by the figures published in a Higher Education South Africa report. (Brian Snyder,Reuters)

Huge discrepancies in academic salaries between senior staff, on the one hand, and women, junior and black staff, on the other, are revealed in an unpublished report that Higher Education South Africa (Hesa) spearheaded. 

Four graphs showing differences in remuneration, by gender and population groups across academic levels, reveal that, in 2012, among junior and senior lecturers, and associate and full professors – as well as between races – men earned more than women. 

Indian male professors earned, on average, R944 880 compared with black female professors, who earned R762 696.   The only women who earned more than all men of all race groups were junior lecturers: Indian women earned on average R377 124. Coloured men of the same level earned the next highest amount (R361 584). 

A graph of the remuneration of age groups according to gender showed the gap between the earnings of men and women, especially those aged 40 or more, was “widening”. 

Hesa, the vice-chancellors’ representative body, finalised the report in November last year but has not released it publicly.
Titled Remuneration of Academic Staff at South African Universities, the report focuses on 22 of South Africa’s then 23 universities in 2012 and analysed the remuneration of 14 910 permanently employed, full-time academic staff and those with fixed contracts of a year or more with universities. 

Of that figure, 44.5% were women and 55.5% were men, the report said. In terms of race, 27.3% were black, 6.7% were coloured, 8.1% were Indian and 55.3% were white. The percentage of staff that did not indicate their race was 2.6%. 

Black women under-represented
The report said, of that figure, there were 2 085 professors. Only 30 were black women, 425 were white women, 208 were black men and 1?200 were white men. Of the 664 junior lecturers, the figures appear to invert. Only 164 are white women, 135 are black women, 161 are black men and 88 are white men. 

The average remuneration for a professor was R831 768 and for a junior lecturer R321 156. The lowest-earning group was black female junior lecturers: they earned R304 320 on average. 

Hesa aimed to produce the report in the face of “ageing academics”, the lure of “well-paying positions in the public sector, as well as in the private sector” and the need for the “transformation of the academic profession” to make it “more representative of the South African population”. 

But the report said the remuneration discrepancies between male and female academics did not result from “direct discrimination” against women. Similarly, it said discrepancies between white and Indian academics, compared with black and coloured staff, “is not the direct consequence of discriminatory practices”.  

Instead, both discrepancies resulted from women, black and coloured staff being “under-represented in the higher academic ranks and over-represented” in the lower ones. 

Replying to the Mail & Guardian‘s questions about any evidence showing there was no discrimination regarding the remuneration of these groups, Hesa chief executive Jeffrey Mabelebele reiterated that these groups were under-represented in higher academic ranks. 

Just because they are men
But a lecturer in Rhodes University’s history department, Nomalanga Mkhize, said the gap was likely to have been influenced by the “common practice to offer men relatively higher pay at whichever level simply because they are men and not women”. 

“The reality is men, regardless of their output, are considered natural leaders and therefore more deserving in salary terms.” 

Regarding discrepancies according to race, she said there was also an “unconscious assumption”, especially at historically white universities, that “white staff deserve relatively higher salaries not because of qualifications but because they are seen to show more potential and be natural leaders, are assumed to be naturally productive and, of course, must be paid to accommodate a suburban-level lifestyle”. 

“What irritates me is the managerial narrative that says black academics are attracted with ‘premium’ salaries into historically white institutions, as though we get paid comparatively more than whites, otherwise we would be chasing government jobs so we can buy BMWs we apparently don’t deserve.” 

She said whites had been getting “premium salaries” for a long time, “but they were assumed to just deserve them”. 

“When black academics point out how whites are advantaged by these unconscious discriminations, we are labelled as whingers who don’t quite understand the ‘complexity’ of the ‘facts’.” 

Chasing better pay
Referring to disparities in salaries between senior and junior staff, Mabelebele said this was “concerning” because junior academics “are often predisposed to leaving the academic profession for perceived or real better-paying jobs in both the public and private sectors”. 

“Junior staff [are] critical both for attracting and retaining academics,” he said.   

The report also found a vast difference between the salaries of vice-chancellors and other academic staff.  It said that, on average, vice-chancellors earned “about five times” more than academic staff.  

Although the table did not name the universities, the highest-earning vice-chancellor in 2012 got R3.720-million. 

The M&G revealed all vice-chancellors’ remunerations in November 2004. Top of that tree was then Mangosuthu Techikon’s rector, who raked in a few coins more than R2.8-million annually – about double his two nearest varsity competitors did. 

Mkhize said the difference in salaries between vice-chancellors and senior staff on the one hand and all other academic staff on the other “reflect the toxic effects of the corporatisation of tertiary institutions in which those at the highest levels of the professoriate and management are treated more like executives than members of the academy. 

“Since the late Nineties, universities have gleefully embraced the culture of corporate excess and managerialism. “Vice-chancellors are paid akin to chief executives, top professors can get huge external funding and the ‘directors’ and ‘managers’ now usurp the academic ethos.” 

The chairperson of the Higher Education Transformation Network, Lucky Thekisho, said the network was “shocked and dismayed” at the manner in which ¬“universities are discriminating against … staff in terms of remuneration”. 

A public commitment
“We have observed that these privileged universities always publicly commit to tackle remuneration disparities and discrimination in their respective institutions, but every time [do] the opposite of what they are telling the country.” 

He said the network was in the process “of requesting an urgent meeting with Hesa to discuss a variety of matters, including the remuneration disparity of academic staff”. 

The network also called upon Blade Nzimande, the higher education and training minister, “to instigate and establish a commission of inquiry regarding remuneration of academic staff … as well as other related anti-transformation challenges in previous privileged universities”. 

*Diane Parker, acting deputy director general (higher education) in Nzimande’s department, also condemned the disparities.  

“The department condemns any discrepancies in remuneration based on race and gender and notes that remuneration should be aligned to qualification, experience, performance and in line with the university policies,” she told the M&G

But she said the Higher Education Act does not allow the department to intervene in how universities pay their staff. 

Autonomous
“As the universities are autonomous entities governed by councils, the department does not have policy guidelines for the remuneration of staff of the different universities.” 

She also said the remuneration of vice-chancellors was justified. “The complexity of universities regarding human resources, finances, budgets, infrastructure and the development needs of the country justify the higher package, whilst an academic manages an academic programme.” 

On gender and race, the report said Hesa had proposed to the government some time ago ways of developing “a new generation of academics”. 

Mabelebele said the government then developed a “new strategy to fund PhD students” and to offer them “at the same time” permanent academic jobs to increase “black and female academics in the system”. 

*Comment from the higher education and training department was not received by the time of going to print and is only included in the online version of this story

Victoria John

Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011. Read more from Victoria John

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