The world’s highest paid professors—a surprisingly good deal

U.S. salary stats highlight value of Canadian universities

by Josh Dehaas

A library at UBC by *_* on Flickr

A few weeks ago, it was revealed that full-time professors in Canada are, on average, the best paid in the world. They make $86,352 at mid-career and $113,820 at the end of their careers. In the U.S., profs earn just $72,648 at mid-career and a measly $88,296 in their golden years.

The revelation that American professors make less than our own was a matter of public outrage: Let’s pay the bums less!

It was also a boost to our collective ego. A mere decade ago we wrung our national hands at how our best and brightest always seemed to move south for higher pay. Now, they stay. Phew!

But new annual salary salary statistics by the American Association of University Professors show that there’s more to the story—something we can, in fact, lord over our neighbours.

A quick comparison shows that, in many cases, our profs are better value for money. Teachers at top-tier U.S. schools unload suitcases more cash than those lecturing at our finest institutions—even in cases where the Yanky schools are lower in the Time Higher Education World Rankings.

Take, for example, the University of British Columbia. It’s ranked #22 globally and the median wage for professors of all ranks there was $114,356 in 2011. (Note: all currency is in local dollars.)

Compare that to Duke University in North Carolina, tied for #22. Their average pay: $175,200!

UBC students are getting an incredible deal with arts tuition at $4,700 and a world ranking in the Top 25. Duke, with the same ranking, costs some arts students $40,575 in annual tuition.

The same comparison can be made in the east. McGill is ranked #28 globally. Its full professors earned a median wage of $137,485 and assistant professors took home $84,094 last year.

New York University, ranked a respectable (though lower) #44, paid full professors an average of $182,400 last year and assistants got $99,700.

Sure, the cost of living is lower in Montreal than Manhattan, so it’s easy to justify paying professors a bit less. But what a steal McGill is for students who pay $2,200 tuition; it’s $20,000 at NYU!

But wait a minute? How can our professors earn more overall, if they’re earning less at top schools? The answer is greater equality between Canadian institutions. Professors at our lower-ranked schools earn buckets more than those who toil at many U.S. colleges of questionable provenance.

In some cases professors at comparable U.S. public colleges make much less too. Average professor pay at many of the University of Maine’s campuses is around $60,000. At the University of Cape Breton, in a similar rural Atlantic locale, the median is $87,127—one of the lowest in Canada.

The cynic in me says that’s proof CBU should pay their professors less and save us all money. But I don’t think that would be very healthy for students. I think that the reasonably comparable pay between institutions in Canada spreads the talent wider. It makes it more enticing for bright professors from Ontario (like our resident blogger Todd Pettigrew) to move to rural Nova Scotia.

And so there you have it. Our professors are the highest paid in the world, but when compared to U.S. institutions, we seem to be getting good value for money. That makes high professor pay a point of pride, rather than a reason for outrage. Now, if only we could tackle those fat cat pensions.

@JoshDehaas is the editor of Maclean’s On Campus.

Enter the Maclean’s On Campus Contest. Follow us on Twitter. “Like” us on Facebook.

The world’s highest paid professors—a surprisingly good deal

  1. I’m not sure you can make the direct comparison here. I seem to recall that the earlier study excluded private US universities, whereas the present one includes them. So, in order to determine if Canadian profs really are the highest paid in the world, you would have to include all US universities (or exclude the US from the comparison altogether). Direct school-to-school matchups such as those in the current article are, of course, still valid. One minor quibble: median, which you are using for Canadian schools, and average, which you quote for American schools, aren’t the same thing, which might also skew the comparisons, especially if there is a very uneven salary distribution.

  2. This is pretty meaningless without total remuneration as much gravy is hidden in benefits, especially the value of pensions to which taxpayers contribute more than the profs. Number of classes taught, average hours worked would also be helpful, though how one would arrive at an honest figure for the latter is a problem since self-reporting results in inflated figures.

  3. I agree that the whole package should be considered, especially since, in the US, many faculty get paid for nine months, and draw the rest of their salary from research grants. I’m interested in your pension comment, though. As far as I’m aware, most universities have a plan whereby the employer and employee contribute equally. Since (roughly) two-thirds to one-half of operating funds come from provincial grants, I don’t see how taxpayers cover more than the profs do.

  4. Silly comparisons. Most professors treat the border as nonexistent- they work where they can get work, they aren’t bound to Canada. And far far more goes into luring professors than salary- such as research funds, lab facilities, strong grad students and research publishing environment, light teaching loads, summer support, benefits, and sabbaticals. Such draws also vary dramatically by field (my senior colleagues at a Canadian uni earn around $300k). So to pull off some gross numbers frim two charts is rather meaningless.

    Tuition at McGill for mst students is over 6k, and tuition at NYU is 20k per semester, not year.

    If you can’t spend more than ten minutes throwing together an article, or focusing on something you know about, you should try a new profession, we have more than enough garbage in the media as it is. Why keep insulting your readers?

  5. UCB should read CBU (Cape Breton University, not University of Cape Breton).

    • Thanks for pointing that out. It has been corrected.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *