New evidence of race discrimination in universities emerged yesterday as research showed black and Asian academics earned an average £2,500 less than their white colleagues.
A survey of economics specialists found an 8 per cent pay gap between lecturers from ethnic minorities and their white counterparts.
The sharp difference existed even when age and research records were taken into account, according to the study by staff at the University of London and the University of Wales.
Researchers surveyed 516 economists in a study for the Royal Economic Society. They said pay differentials were likely to be worse in other disciplines.
The survey also confirmed the wide pay gap between men and women, with unmarried women paid 14 per cent less than their male counterparts.
Lecturers' representatives condemned what they said was "unwitting but systemic" discrimination and called on all universities to review their employment practices.
Professor Jeff Frank, of Royal Holloway, University of London, carried out the study with David Blackaby of the University of Wales, Swansea.
Professor Frank said: "We did a survey of individual academics, but we were able to ask them questions about their backgrounds, what class of degree they had and what their research record was.
"The average ethnic minority economist was paid 13 per cent less than white economists, although when you adjust for age and other individual characteristics black and Asian economists still earn 8 per cent less.
"Because of financial constraints, universities have not been as good at developing best practice employment policies.
"I'm convinced they believe strongly in equal opportunities, but what tends to happen, I imagine, is they pay what they can get away with.
"The message is that all universities are very badly funded but the approach to bad funding is not to have bad employment practices. Universities have to adopt good employment practices and reward people according to objective criteria."
Midge Purcell, spokeswoman for the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, said: "Research has consistently found that black academics tend to be more qualified and have higher levels of qualification but the pay gap continues to grow between them and their white counterparts.
"There's a culture of elitism in universities that really does disadvantage ethnic minority academics and we need to see a real change of culture.
"We feel universities should unpick their systems to make sure unwitting racism does not disadvantage a whole section of black academics."
Peter Humphreys, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, said: "We would be opposed to any unlawful or unfair discrimination on pay or anything else. We have been working with the trade unions in a working party for some months to produce a document that will encourage institutions to apply fair and equal policies in the areas of gender and ethnicity.
"Such discrimination as there is will emerge from unconscious behaviour and we are working with unions and the funding council to raise awareness of ethnicity and gender issues in institutional managers."