Pay & Conditions: benchmarking workshop

Matt Jarvis pictured outside with a dog in background

Matt Jarvis is Professor of Astrophysics and Associate Head (People) for MPLS Division. After his PhD, Matt did a postdoc in the Netherlands and Oxford, before taking up a lectureship at the University of Hertfordshire. He has held an Adjunct Professorship at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa since 2010. He returned to Oxford in 2012 as an Associate Professor and was promoted to full Professor in 2014. As a divisional Associate Head, since 2020, Matt has been championing continuous improvement in our working culture and experience for all staff. 

The second workshop of the Pay & Conditions review was held on 13 September and focused on benchmarking data for academic and research staff. This is a difficult and complex topic as it cuts across many career stages where staff may face a range of challenges that are not only associated with their salary, but also job security, the increasing costs of visas and the NHS surcharge, alongside particularly acute cost of living pressures in Oxford compared to other regions within the UK and further afield.  

The first stage of benchmarking in the Pay & Conditions project has focused on pulling together key information from across the sector, detailing how Oxford University salaries compare to other UK universities. This has provided a clear overview of where we sit in the wider UK HEI environment, but it does not give us the whole story. Therefore, a significant amount of time in this workshop was spent discussing which key elements are still missing from that wider picture and identifying opportunities to gather further data that will enable a deeper and broader benchmarking analysis. This includes gaining a better understanding of comparable roles and workload and how those relate to pay scales in different institutions, the wellbeing of our staff, the relative cost of living and therefore the amount of disposable income we have as Oxford employees compared to our counterparts at other universities, alongside Oxford-specific considerations, such as the contribution of colleges to the reward package for joint appointments. 

There was further discussion about how our research and academic staff are not restricted to staying in academia and there are a growing number of roles in the private and public sectors that are competing with us for talented staff. We highlighted specific cases where there are particular challenges for retaining staff in research and academic roles and we hope to gather benchmarking data against these industry competitors. 

Another important facet of benchmarking that is critical for our researchers and academics is how we compare to our international competitors. It is obviously more difficult to obtain a holistic comparison for international universities, given that there are significant differences in career progression pathways, requirements at a given career stage, and costs and ways of living, as well as the slightly more straightforward salary comparisons. More research and analysis are needed to get a well-rounded view of the international benchmarking data, whilst also recognising that attempting to benchmark against everything and everyone could prohibit getting to the key issues on a reasonable timescale. With that in mind, we have focused our effort on broadly similar European institutions, alongside highly rated research-intensive institutions across the USA, Asia and Australia. 

The Pay & Conditions Steering Committee were all in agreement that, although the benchmarking data and the statistical analysis of such data is critical, it will not, on its own, provide the granularity that allows us to meaningfully relate it to the Oxford University context. To address this, we plan to collate case-studies from across the University to provide information that does not automatically appear in the pay and workload comparisons, including greater insight into: the experience of line managers and supervisors in recruiting to specific roles; the experience of international researchers and academics coming to Oxford from overseas; and the balance between workload, expectation and salary across the full range of career stages. 

Clearly, for Oxford to carry on being a world-leading centre for research and teaching, we need to retain and continue to attract the best people in their chosen fields. Therefore, we will use this information, to guide the discussion on what Oxford researchers and academics should be paid and what other benefits we should offer in comparison to our competitors.  

You can find out more about this review and the Steering Committee’s meetings and workshops, on the Pay & Conditions Report webpages. Please use the Pay & Conditions staff feedback form to share any questions or comments with the committee, and don’t forget to register for the Pay & Conditions Town Hall event taking place at the Oxford Martin School (online and in-person) on 11 October, where a panel of committee members will be taking your questions.