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China / Society

Low salaries leave expat teachers bottom of class

By Zhao Xinying (China Daily) Updated: 2015-07-23 07:39

Low salaries leave expat teachers bottom of class

Chinese students learn about the Easter tradition with their foreign teacher at an international school in Zhuji city, Zhejiang province. Luo Shanxin / for China Daily

Foreign educators provide many services in China, but the poor incomes they are being offered are causing instability in the national education system, as Zhao Xinying reports.

Since China implemented the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, the country's classrooms and lecture halls have become meccas for teachers from overseas, and it's estimated that at least 4,000 expat educators will be required nationwide in the next academic year.

However, despite the benefits brought by foreign teachers, the low salaries they are offered are causing disruption in the Chinese education system, according to industry insiders.

That's because cash-strapped tutors are constantly switching schools to improve their incomes, and that's making it increasingly difficult for universities and colleges to hold on to talented educators, the insiders said.

Wu Yaowu, director of the International Exchange Office at Xi'an International Studies University, said the school faces fierce competition to retain the services of good foreign teachers, especially at the end of each academic year, when contracts are renewed.

"After working in schools of China for a couple of years, they (foreign teachers) have a shrewd idea of salary levels in the sector, so they naturally gravitate toward the schools that offer better benefit packages," he said.

XISU, in the western province of Shaanxi, specializes in teaching foreign languages, and now employees about 70 foreign teachers, most of whom are on one-or two-year contracts, according to Wu.

"Many foreign teachers care deeply about the material benefits they will gain from the schools for which they work," he said. "Under those criteria, we are not very competitive in attracting foreign teachers, because we offer most of them a monthly salary of just 5,000 yuan ($805), which is generally 1,000 or 2,000 yuan lower than our peer schools."

Low salaries have become a barrier to the recruitment and retention of expat teaching staff at schools nationwide, but the problem is particularly acute in central and western China.

Shirley Chen, a recruitment specialist at Fartop Education & Consulting Service Co, an agency that recruits foreign teachers for schools in Changde, Hunan province, said the low levels of pay meant the agency was only able to recruit one foreign teacher for a local school last year.

"Schools in Changde offer a monthly salary of 4,500 yuan, which is quite good for local residents, but it doesn't satisfy foreign teachers," she said. "That's why they usually move east to large, prosperous cities, where they can earn twice as much, or even a lot more."

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