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A Survey of Public-University Professors’ Pay

This article is part of an editorial package. See also the related articles “Graphic and FAQS:Arab Public-University Salaries,” and “The Economic Struggles of Public-University Professors

Public-university professors in much of the Arab world have great difficulty climbing up into the middle class. That is the conclusion of a salary survey of 12 Arab countries done by Al-Fanar Media.

Among the 12 countries surveyed, public-university professors’ salaries in Lebanon and the Gulf nations were the highest, while Yemen and Morocco were the lowest. “We undertook this survey because for years, even decades, there has been discussion about Arab professors not getting paid enough,” said David L. Wheeler, editor of Al-Fanar Media. “But the actual numbers were often impossible to come by. Now we have the facts for an informed discussion.”

The project began in September and involved journalists in each country obtaining salary figures from ministries, other public sources, recruiting agencies, professors and institutions themselves and then cross-checking those numbers with other professors. While not following a scientific-survey method, great care has been taken to verify numbers and, when possible, to report any possible supplements the professors are eligible for. Errors may have crept in, and we will accept corrections, when they can be verified, with grace.

In every country surveyed, a proportion of the salary scale was below the wage needed to be able to live a middle-class lifestyle when weighted by local purchasing power, specifically what is known as “purchasing power parity,” or how far the professors’ wages could stretch in the local economy. Despite the difficulty Arab academics have in reaching the middle class, academics do well compared to the rest of the population, because many Arab countries are in the bottom economic tier globally. (See a graphic here that summarizes the economic positions of Arab public-university professors.)

Not surprisingly, Syria is the most financially difficult country to work in as a public-university professor. Syrian salaries, already low, have been depressed by as much as 75 percent from the time the conflict there started nearly three years ago. Syrian inflation runs at 37 percent, the highest in the countries surveyed, with the runner-up being Yemen at 12 percent. Salaries, of course, have not kept pace with inflation in those two countries, leaving academics and many other wage earners hurting.

In countries such as Libya, Syria and Tunisia, academics even at the highest end of the pay scale failed to make enough to reach the minimum annual salary necessary for a middle-class lifestyle. Academics starting out at the bottom of the salary scale in such countries start out at a very low point. Iraq, Libya, Morocco and Syria started their professors off with salaries under $13,000 a year.

In Egypt, Yemen and Morocco, that highest salary also didn’t even come close to crossing the middle-class threshold. The highest-paid academics in Yemen and Morocco respectively earn about $22,000 and $30,000 annually. At the highest professional levels for academics, Tunisia, Jordan and Iraq ranked well, with top-paid Jordanian academics earning almost $60,000 a year.

Some of the best-paid academics in the Arab world, in Lebanon, earn between $30,000 to $90,000, salaries that are partly the result of a strike earlier this year. For a couple to live a middle-class existence in Beirut, they would need to earn $43,171, according to spending-power statistics. Regardless of where they fall on the academic ladder, Lebanese public-university faculty members earn three to nine times more than the average Lebanese. The country’s per capita income is $10,708, according to the International Monetary Fund.

In fact, in every country surveyed except Syria and Qatar, academic salaries were higher—often far higher—than what many of their countrymen lived on in a year. Salaries in the Gulf nations are often beefed up with housing, transportation, and tuition allowances for dependent children, so academics in these countries ultimately face a much lower cost of living as well as getting higher salaries that are often tax-free. Those factors make it difficult to determine the true cost of living measured against salary and compare the Gulf nations to the other countries in the region. (See related article “Employment in the Gulf: Not Always What it Seems.”)

In the United Arab Emirates, faculty members’ salaries appear to be in a range of $41,000 to $176,000 annually and easily surpass the level of $54,250 needed for a middle-class existence, given that many academics get a housing allowance and other generous benefits.

This survey gathered enough data to show what has long been complained about but not necessarily verified—that professors in the Arab world overall do not make enough, despite their extensive education, to live a middle-class lifestyle, making teaching at a public university an unattractive profession. The findings also illustrate why so many academics migrate to better-paying countries when they can and also why many take on second and third jobs and promote their textbooks, tutoring lessons or consulting businesses.

Those responsible for teaching the next generation of Arab leaders may—or may not—be trying their best, but they have little economic motivation to do so.

See also the related articles “Graphic and FAQS:Arab Public-University Salaries,” and “The Economic Struggle of Public-University Professors

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  1. “For a couple to live a middle-class existence in Beirut, they would need to earn $43,171, according to spending-power statistics”

    This statement is vastly inaccurate. Living expenses are high in Beirut, and taxes are high in Lebanon. A couple would need to earn more than $100,000 per year to live a middle-class lifestyle in Beirut.

  2. Thanks for your comment.
    The baseline middle class figures are rough figures based on International Monetary Fund cost-of-living statistics, inflation and per-capita income estimates and are intended to provide a bottom-end figure, which has been verified by local sources, not a definitive economic statistic.
    Middle class is also a state of mind. To some it is driving a BMW. To others, it is just having a car.

  3. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I noticed that the figures provided in the text for Lebanon and the UAE do not correspond to the ranges indicated on the graph (unless the text is referring to the unadjusted salary levels): $43,171 seems to be the lower bound of the salaries in Lebanon and the min middle class level is between 60 and 65k. Moreover, the per capita income is a bit over 15k ($10,708 in the text).

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