A couple of weeks ago, the Times Higher Education put together a cute infographic showing how many square metres an academic salary bought in different parts of the world (the full article is here). I thought I would try the same thing for here in Canada.
So, here’s what I did. I took median academic salaries for major universities in Canada for the 2010-11 year, the last year for which comparable data is available (yes, it’s a travesty. But the travesty isn’t just that Statscan no longer collects the data; it’s also a travesty because, four years on from Statscan throwing in the towel, Canadian universities still haven’t gotten their act together enough to publish this stuff nationally, even though they all collect the data in the same format. Yeesh). The data includes Deans’ salaries, but excludes salaries in medical faculties (you can see the version published by Maclean’s, here).
To look at housing costs, I went to Numbeo.com, which is a database dedicated to providing comparative cost of living data for cities around the world. For each of the 20 cities in Canada, I queried the “cost per square metre to buy an apartment in the city centre”, which appears to be how the THE got its statistics. I am a bit dubious about this one. It’s not quite apples-to-apples since the quality of a downtown condo differs somewhat for place to place, and in some of the smaller cities the numbers look suspiciously low (I have a hard time believing the price per square metre in Kingston is a third of what it is in Toronto, but whatever).
Dividing one figure by the other gives you the number of square metres of housing an academic salary can buy at 29 Canadian universities.
Across Canada, Waterloo and Dalhousie are the median cases, where average salaries purchase about 30 sq metres of housing a year. But the spread here is quite unbelievable. At the high end are universities in very small, inexpensive cities like Windsor and Sherbrooke (though it’s debatable how fair the latter figure is, given how many Sherbrooke profs actually commute from Montreal); at the low end, all five of the bottom spots are taken by universities in Toronto and Vancouver. It’s the city housing costs, not the variation in salaries, which really causes the difference here.
(Sidebar: remember how Windsor faculty actually wanted to go on strike 18 months ago, in part because of pay issues? Think back to that, while keeping in mind that housing costs in Windsor, as a function of salary, are 5 to 6 times lower than they are in Vancouver. Just think about it and wonder.)
You can’t quite make a comparison between this data and that used by the Times Higher Ed; if I understand their data correctly, their numerator is the figure for full professors only, not all full-time academic staff. But, very roughly, our profs in Toronto and Vancouver are not nearly in so difficult a position as professors in big Asian metropolises, London, or Paris, but they are still in a situation similar to academics in Sydney or Oxford, which is pretty tight. And elsewhere? Things are still better in most Canadian universities than they are in Boston, Milan, and Berlin. Which, you know – not too shabby. This is Canada after all: apart from Toronto and Vancouver, there’s plenty of space, which keeps housing costs down. It’s the main reason our quality of life stays high even though our productivity levels remain stagnant.
But still: these differences within the country are quite significant. You’d think that they might actually play some role, say, in salary negotiations or arbitrators’ decisions. Just sayin’.