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New report examines the gender pay gap in higher education

  • 14 March 2024
  • By Rose Stephenson

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has released a comprehensive report, Show me the money – an exploration of the gender pay gap in higher education (HEPI Report 171), authored by HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, Rose Stephenson. The report, supported by Durham University, delves into the persistent pay gap between genders within the higher education sector, despite notable advancements in female representation. The study provides a unique institution-by-institution analysis, offering insights into the ‘heroes and villains’ in the ongoing battle for pay equity.

Key findings:

  • The UK’s higher education sector has a smaller gender pay gap than the national average, with significant improvements since 2017.
  • Disparities persist between institutions, with some leading the way towards gender pay equity, while others lag behind.
  • The report ranks higher education institutions by their current median and mean gender pay gaps, as well as progress over time.
  • Overall, progress in reducing the pay gap may be slowing, indicating the need for renewed focus and strategy. Indeed, many institutions (28) will never reach pay parity at their current rate of progression as they have been moving in the wrong direction – see Table 5 in the report. On their current trajectory and according to the most recent comparable data, the University of Leeds and Loughborough University could take over half a century to close their gender pay gaps while the University of Oxford will take 680 years to close its gender pay gap.

There is plenty of good news for the sector in this report. The median gender pay gap across the sector stands at 11.9 per cent, outperforming the broader UK average of 14.4 per cent. On average, the higher education sector will take 14 years to close its gender pay gap, compared to 18 years for all UK employment sectors.

However, variations between institutions are wide-ranging, with median gender pay gaps in 2022 reported between 0 per cent and 41 per cent. Regent’s University London, The Royal College of Music, Solent University, Staffordshire University, and the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance all have a median gender pay gap of 0 per cent. Meanwhile, the University of Buckingham has a median gender pay gap of 41 per cent.

Some institutions have made significant progress over time – and some have made much less. Several institutions have increased their gender pay gap over 5 years – and at this rate of progress will never reach pay parity. Others have made small amounts of progress over the past five years and will take many years to close their gender pay gap.

Closing the gap:

The report goes beyond the numbers, exploring the structural barriers to pay equity, including employment structures, bonus culture, and intersectionality, offering a nuanced understanding of the challenges and progress within higher education.

The report emphasises the significance of closing the gender pay gap not only as a matter of fairness but also as a critical economic imperative, potentially adding billions to the UK’s GDP.

Institutions are urged to consider the report’s findings and recommendations seriously, to drive further change, and to continue the trend of narrowing the gender pay gap.

Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said:

Mandatory gender pay gap reporting has successfully drawn attention to the importance of reducing pay gaps. Real progress will require long term strategies and action plans to address inequalities and bring about systemic change. This is the approach we have taken at Durham University.

Rose Stephenson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

Some institutions have made exceptional progress narrowing, or even eliminating their gender pay gap. However, some institutions have made too little progress, or even seen their pay gaps increase over the last five years. What is clear from the report is that there are structural reasons for the gender pay gap – and these structural barriers can and should be removed. A laser-like focus on flexible working opportunities, family friendly policies that work for fathers as well as mothers, and a detailed understanding of structural biases within recruitment processes will allow institutions to make more progress towards gender pay equity.


  • Increase part-time and flexible working opportunities, particularly in senior roles.
  • Prepare for, communicate and implement the new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023.
  • Review and overhaul recruitment metrics, particularly those that lead to further inequity.
  • Ensure that recruitment panels are gender-diverse.
  • Avoid inquiring about salary history in recruitment processes, to mitigate historical pay biases.
  • Encourage and normalise the uptake of paternity leave, shared parental leave and flexible work for fathers.
  • A call for the government to consider more proactive forms of paternity leave, like those seen in Sweden.

Notes for Editors:

  1. The report covers data from 2017 to 2022, examining trends and providing a forward-looking perspective on the gender pay gap in UK higher education.
  2. Interviews and data from various institutions and recruitment firms offer a multi-faceted view of the pay gap issue.
  3. HEPI was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.


  1. Ella says:

    Note that the report is England/ Wales only.

  2. John says:

    “Disparities persist between institutions, with some leading the way towards gender pay equity, while others lag behind.” Equity has NO place in this discussion, equal pay for work of equal value is what we need to aim for, though that tends to be biased by the ‘assessment’ system in use, those using HERA have better adjusted pay for work outcomes across their range of employee’s than those using HAY that’s biased towards Admin and Academics and against other job roles.

  3. Dan King says:

    The report identifies the influence of subject or discipline as a factor that influences many factors relating to the pay gap. But consideration of this in the context of different types of institution is limited: small/specialist, STEM-focused, AHSS-focused, broad based etc. – and how successful they have been in addressing the pay gap as groups/cluster of like institutions. To what extent is performance in addressing pay gaps influenced by this?

  4. Rose Stephenson says:

    Hi Ella,
    Since 2017, higher education providers in England, with more than 250 staff, have been required to report their gender pay gap to the Government – this is published here: and data from the site was used in the report. There are different specific duties in Scotland and specific duties in Wales. However, some institutions in the devolved nations of the
    UK choose to report to the Government portal, and this is increasingly the case. For example, St Andrews has chosen to report since 2017, and is therefore included in all the rankings. The rankings that focussed on the last year’s data also includes the University of the Highlands and the Islands, which reflects the increasing number of voluntary submission to the pay gap portal. Hopefully we will see this continue to increase over time, as it is a straightforward way to compare like-for-like data.

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