When Meenakshi Sarkar landed a job as a teaching fellow at Leeds University after a successful career in business in India, she was delighted. But the university put her on the lowest possible academic pay band, leaving her struggling financially. It became clear that colleagues were paid more for similar work, leaving her feeling "depressed and devalued".
"I feel like everyone else is running a 100m sprint and I'm running a steeplechase alongside them. It's not an equal race," she says. Ms Sarkar's frustration is not unusual, according to data obtained by BBC News under Freedom of Information law.
The BBC sent FOI requests to all 24 universities in the Russell Group of highly selective, research-based universities, and 22 responded.
At these universities, the data showed average salaries of:
l £52,000 for white academics
l £38,000 for black academics
l £37,000 for academics from an Arab background
This means that black and Arab academics at the UK's top universities earn an average 26% less than white colleagues. And female academics fare even worse, with an ethnicity pay gap on top of the gender pay gap. The pay gap is smaller for other Asian and mixed-heritage academics.
The Russell Group said it was unable to comment on individual universities' recruitment practices.