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Not crazy about UK, but it's worth a try

I think that pension is another good benefit, if compared to other countries, especially given recent news (pension benefits have been increased).
Other kinds of benefits such as childcare etc: please note that if you are not a UK citizen and live there with a non-permanent visa, then you are eligible to almost nothing. Moreover, you pay health insurance twice: when you apply for the visa (it is called health surcharge) and with your taxes.
OP is not wrong about salaries: they are not particularly good. But they are not that bad either. But if you live in expensive places like London, Bristol, Oxford, etc, then you are in big trouble (unless you have other sources of income)
The UK is still good for research, so I think that, if you are not British, then you can use your time there to build-up a competitive research profile, and then leave for a better-paid job. My impression is that this is the fate of UK academia: being increasingly seen (by non-British) as an excellent starting point, but not as a place to stay. Unless certain things change (e.g. better salaries)

another perspective

Parts of the USA are also bad. A former colleague told me that when he interviewed for an Assistant Professorship in one of the BIG cities of the US at a state college, a faculty member took him aside and said, if you get the job you will not be able to live in the city on your salary - you will need extra work. Aside from high strata of academics, as a lot, we have fallen behind. I plan to work to 69 - more or less out of necessity.


I left UK academia and moved to Canada where I make 1.5x as much and pay 50% less for housing in a house that is probably triple the size and quality of what I could afford in the UK. My childcare here is government subsidised now and child benefit is more than twice as much. We also have a pension scheme but it is defined contribution not defined benefit like the UK one is so it's hard to compare. The only really cheap thing in teh UK (relative to here) is food/groceries.

To put it into perspective, as a single parent with one child on a permanent lecturer's salary, you're entitled to benefits (i.e. welfare in American). That's how dire things are salary wise.

I have a lot of personal reasons why it would be better to go back to the UK but the low salaries adn cost of living make that an extremely hard sell.

Tenured now

I can speak a bit to (some other) parts of the US, and to Australia. I started out in a small college town in the midwest 10 years ago making $50k, and felt like I was rolling in money (caveat - my partner was making the same and we had no kids and no debt).

Academic salaries in Australia are set by band across all disciplines, and my sense is that they are plenty to live on (a friend who was also starting out 10 years ago had a lecturer job and a small child and they could buy a house in a big Australia city).

But that said, honestly I don't think there are many jobs left anywhere where you can afford to support a family of four on one income starting out.

Visited UK

If you can support a family of four on one income starting out, that doesn't sound bad at all...

I do, however, find UK salaries meager. But i heard that UK (or just Oxford) has good housing benefits, but I don't know the detail. The life in UK seems neither good nor bad, but definitely poorer materialistically than all other places I have been.


This might be an obvious point (and I don't know about other countries), but UK university salaries are pretty much the same across every university. In other words, there's no change relative to how expensive it is to live in the city you're based in / near.

I work at a university where living costs are some of the lowest in the UK, so the salary is good (much higher than the average for the area).

In contrast, as Not crazy... notes, if you live somewhere like Bristol or Brighton or, god-forbid, London, then the salary will seem very low. As Helen notes, Oxford is bonkers. Of course, hardly anyone can afford to live in these places, regardless of their job.

An academic's salaray is still above the national average, although not by a huge amount (at least based on median salary). That said, it will be hard to cover costs on that salary, given how things are rocketing. Rent rises are a massive problem, house prices are still very high and the current, high mortgage rates look to be fairly locked in. Thus, in short, a lot of academics will experience financial stress (along with millions of non-academics).

One thing to counterbalance that with is the absence of tenure. Once hired, it is hard to be fired (not impossible). I *think* job security is much less stressful here, compared with the tenure system. At least, from what I know, there's very little pressure to meet performance targets (or the targets are sufficiently easy to hit to remove pressure).


One more thing to add: at least in my institution, there is an annual pay increase (you go up a step on the pay ladder each year). Thus, even if you start on, say, £40,000, each year that could increase by £2k or £3k.

Also, my institution is pretty good for promoting people, so within four of five years most people have been promoted from lecturer to senior lecturer (which tends to start around the £50k mark).

a Canadian

I was shocked to read Elizabeth's comment about Canada and wanted to offer a different perspective. Maybe the situation Elizabeth describes is true for professors or associate professors. But as an early career person, the pay in the UK is significantly higher. Good postdocs in Canada pay C$45k tops and assistant professors start at around C$60-65k. That's barely £27k and £35-38k respectively. Once we factor in the ever growing housing crisis in Canada, the situation seems more dire than the UK, unless you live in Quebec or the prairies. I make at least 1.5x more in the UK and pay less for housing and food in an expensive UK city.

another early career canadian

Assistant professors starting at 60 doesn't match my experience. At the fanciest place, they start a bit over 100. At less fancy places, I've experienced and heard of 1st year assistant rates being more like 75-80. You can just look at the collective agreements for various faculty unions to check out the pay scales. But yes, the housing crisis is bad regardless.

a Canadian

Another early career Canadian, thanks for the correction. Salaries for people with public sector jobs are publicly available in Canada, which is where I got my information. But I’m just realizing how dated my information must be. Also, I lumped instructors and lecturers in with assistant profs since some of those positions are permanent or continuing, but the starting salary is obviously very different.


FWIW, I make $84K in the Vancouver area. I also have a small child. The average rent would eat about 56% of my take-home pay each month. (Also, food is, like, twice as expensive as in the easterly provinces.)

Thankfully, I'm renting for substantially less than that, because (1) I came here before the prices on the outskirts got even stupider, and (2) I've been very lucky.


I think the situation for people with a UK passport is so different from the situation for people without one that it’s hard to say anything in general. So I’ll just sound a note of scepticism that any of the problems people are raising or will raise are going to improve soon. The only change I can see are far fewer permanent UK jobs, especially in the humanities. It remains to be seen whether this will go along with continuing reductions in pay etc or will be part of an attempt to maintain the status quo for those lucky enough to get a permanent position.



A British man with bad teeth:

“At least my school isn’t a shooting range”

That, along with the presence of history and culture, access to nature sans Lyme disease, is the advantage of living in the UK vs US. Sure, move to Texas and get paid x3, but what are you going to spend it on? MASSIVE PRAWNS (cf. Stewart Lee).


I am in a somewhat similar position, i.e. a country with fixed pay for academic ranks regardless of where one is employed, and there are massive differences in different parts of the country.

The starting pay would be ok, if one started at 25. (There are pay bumps every two years). Nowadays it is more common to get one's first permanent position at 35 or 40. The result is that most of my colleagues opt to work part-time and have a side gig, if they can; or just don't live where the university is, and only show up two days a week.

Marcus Arvan

I have to say that a system of compensation to that completely fails to take into account any differences in the cost of living is just bizarre. It is hard to fathom how such a system could in any seriousness be put into place. But yea, I know, we live in an absurd world. Doesn’t make it any less absurd.


Marcus: It’s because there is a collective bargaining agreement between the union that represents many university staff (UCU) and an umbrella organisation for British universities. Getting rid of that would be, to put it mildly, contentious.

Marcus Arvan

Sure, but the very idea that a collective bargaining agreement wouldn’t take into account differences in cost of living in different cities and regions is what seems so absurd. Surely that’s one of the things that a union should take into account in bargaining, no?


I found my answer from a recent Conversation article that linked to this calculator:


It would seem that I am post tax roughly 1.5k GBP short of "a decent standard of living." Seems workable once my partner goes back to work, i.e. we just need to rely on (my partner's) savings a tiny bit longer until my kids can go to free childcare.

Kids are expensive.

Sometimes I feel that it was a huge mistake to not get my first permanent job in my mid 20s, but I only started my phd then...


Marcus, in the country I was referring to (not the UK but similar in size and with similar cost of living differences), professors are public servants, and salaries are established by law and cannot be negotiated. Still, even for public employees with an employment contract, there are no geographical differences. The unions don't want it. In the private sector, of course, the story is totally different.

a peon

I worked in the Uk a number of years from postdoc to assistant professor. The salary was just enough to cover rent in a nice location and food. I couldn't save any additional money. I got salary increases as I moved through the ranks, but they merely matched inflation. I never really felt like my standard of living improved. They also always dangled the threat of being sacked over my head if I didn't bring in enough grant money.

I now work in the mid-west United States at a less prestigious university, but the pay is better. I save more each month and can go out to eat and actually do some fun activities. It's still not good. I have very little disposable income, but I should get tenure and have security unlike in the UK. I don't have any threats hanging over my head either. In sum, the salaries suck in both countries, but it's a bit better in the US, especially with the security of tenure. I also get to see the sun most days!

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