China will rely more on innovation to boost its economic growth, but the wages of college teachers in big cities - who will prepare those future innovators - are markedly lower than those of many manual laborers, let alone teachers in primary and middle schools in smaller locales.
Doctors and nurses are the other low-income professional group in the country, provided they do not take bribes from patients seeking favorable treatment.
Teachers’ voices have largely been ignored by local governments, who are mainly responsible for paying the teachers’ wages.
China should not wait any longer to increase teacher pay, especially that of teachers working in poor inland areas with weak government finances.
Education is largely a public service in China. Public schools dominate the education market. There is not a free-flow mechanism for teachers to work in different schools, and schools need not provide a competitive salary standard to attract teachers. Working as a teacher basically means bidding farewell to high income.
It has become increasingly difficult for job-hunters to get hired as teachers in China, because of the stability and the huge amount of free time of this profession.
A 35-year-old assistant professor of political science in Shanghai-based Fudan University revealed his monthly revenue structure in his commentary for a local newspaper calling for an increase in teacher salaries.
He made about 10,000 yuan ($1,670) each month after tax, which is made up of the wage from government, job subsidies from school, class fees, a year-end bonus from school and a research reward from school.
He said the research award from school is the largest contributor. The business school is the wealthiest, because it can earn money through various training programs.
“Teachers from the poorer schools mostly rely on their wage and class fee to make a living, receiving about 5,000 yuan a month,” he said.
The earning structure does not, however, boost real research. The number of published papers or books is one of the most important criteria in judging the research ability or performance of teachers in China.
Chinese teachers write many papers, only a few of which have new findings or meet international standards.
Helping teachers write and publish papers has become a developed underground market for editors of academic journals listed by the education authorities of various levels.
The government-funded research programs are the other source of income for teachers, and the number of government research programs they undertake is the other key indicator of their research abilities under the current research assessment system in China.
The problem is there is not a strict supervision mechanism for government research programs, most of which can be finished smoothly in time after the teachers’ winning out in the application competition.
The research funding provided by the government can be reimbursed by invoices provided by the researchers. The government research program becomes a cash cow for the officials or panels with the power to decide whose application is selected.
A 42-year-old academician of biology science with the Chinese Academy of Sciences was found embezzling 25 million yuan in government research funds last October, becoming the youngest academician dismissed from the CAS.