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Perks and benefits of teaching English at a Chinese university(1)
Author: EnglishTeacher    2022-09-22

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In this post I’ll run through the perks and financial benefits of teaching English in a Chinese university.


Chinese university jobs aren’t the highest paid teaching positions in China. For better salaries you need to teach young kids, or teach at international schools. However, University jobs offer lower teaching workloads, less stress and more vacation time. If quality of life is what you’re seeking, then read on…


Teaching salaries vary in Chinese universities, but you’ll generally make about 10,000 RMB a month.


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How to earn more?


You can earn more by working in East China or one of the other areas with low unemployment and higher salaries generally. But on the downside living costs will be higher here as well. Bear in mind that Shanghai and Shenzhen are particularly expensive cities to live in.


You will generally be offered a higher salary if you have a Masters degree or a Doctorate. I have a Doctorate degree which gives me an extra 1,000 RMB a month. A Masters degree is worth an extra 500 RMB a month.


Schools will often have retention bonuses. If you decide you like your university and want to stay another year, then that can be worth 500 RMB a month in the second year. My university has a performance bonus that depends on feedback from the students. This can be quite lucrative (as much as 2,000 RMB a month).


Finally salary depends on working hours. 2 hours extra a week nets you an extra 500 RMB a month. More on working hours later in this post. Remember to negotiate on salary when offered a job – you might be able to get a little more out of them. Especially if you already have teaching experience.


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Other Financial Benefits… And Some Unwelcome Costs


Teaching jobs generally come with a free apartment. Make sure yours does! If you’re interested in learning Mandarin then you might get offered free classes. These will generally depend on whether they overlap with your own teaching schedule. It’s worth going to some classes, if only to see how Chinese teachers do their lessons.


You should get your flight to and from your home country paid for. Some universities will buy you a flight, or pay you the exact cost. Others will just give you an allowance that should hopefully pay for the journey.


You should find that universities will pay your visa costs in China. But they won’t always pay for your visa application back in your home country. 


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Warning – How to Screw Things Up!


Make sure you read your contract. It should always be translated into English for you. While you might not understand Chinese, make sure the English version looks vaguely similar in terms of paragraph numbers.


Universities will fire teachers for three main reasons: performance, excessive drinking or womanising.


It’s no secret that a lot of teachers in China aren’t that good at their jobs. So universities will fire teachers, or at the very least not renew their contracts at the end of the year.


Alcohol is absurdly cheap in China, so if you like a drink or two it’s essential not to let it affect your work. Unlike in the West, Chinese universities tend to be virtually alcohol free zones. It’s not served at events. There are no bars on campus. Not many students actually drink. So while you can drink in your room, just be careful not to be seen intoxicated.


Finally – this usually applies to younger guys – be careful if having relationships with students. In fact many contracts will now specifically prohibit this, especially if the school has had problems in the past. Generally speaking, you should keep things on a professional level within your school. If you want to date locals, then find somebody with no connection to your school.


One other thing to be careful of is offering private tuition to students. You might find that problems arise if you start tutoring some of your own students. This can cause accusations of favouritism, and if your students turn against you, you’ll find it very hard to keep your contract. My tip here is to look for private tuition gigs outside of your university, if you do them at all.


The Free Apartment – is it Any Good?


Universities generally give you a free apartment as part of the deal. This is a wonderful perk in that by living a frugal life you can effectively save most of your salary while working in China!


On the downside, the apartment can vary. It’s hard to be too general here as what you get offered will depend on what university you decide to join. I am lucky in that my university’s campus is only two years old. The foreign teachers live in a purpose built apartment block.


Our rooms are quite big. In fact my bathroom is actually bigger than my Pimlico apartment I used to live in when I worked in Central London!


I also have a big double bed, a flatscreen TV, a desk, various chairs, lots of cupboard space and a cooking area. The bathroom has a Western style toilet, a decent shower and even a washing machine.


There are some communual areas in the building. There are some clothes driers and also a communal kitchen. I tend not to use this except for when I need to use the fan assisted ovens for cooking pizzas or baked potatoes.


I can also cook in my room. The school provided me with a hot plate and a kind of microwave thing. The microwave thing took some experimentation and a lot of ruined food before I got it working (of course the instructions are only in Chinese). The hot plate is great for cooking pasta or soup. There is also an air conditioning unit which also serves as a heater in winter.


If your school is older then you might get some or all of that, although I’m doubtful you’d get a flatscreen TV.


On the downside, air conditioners can be quite noisy. And my room still fills up with mosquitoes, even with mosquito grills on the windows. Finally, China is one of the noisiest countries on earth, so remember to take ear-plugs.


By the way some universities might give you an office, or at least a desk in a shared office. I got offered one, but I’ve never worked in there. It would feel too much like going back to my 9 – 5 job.


What’s the Teaching Load Like?


Teaching workloads vary in Chinese universities. It tends to depend on how prestigious the university is, and how many foreign teachers are there.


Generally you’ll be expected to work for between 10 and 22 hours a week. These are teaching hours. In practice each 2 hour slot means you’ll teach for 45 minutes, the students have a 10 minute break then you’ll have to entertain them for another 45 minutes. So 90 minutes work in total.


Bear in mind however that university campuses can be BIG. It takes me nearly 15 minutes to walk from my apartment to one of my classrooms!


As I said teaching workload depends primarily on how prestigious a university is. If it is famous and well known, then you’ll teach for less hours. Strange but true.


I did 18 hours in my first semester at my up and coming technical university. Next year they want me to do 22 hours! The good news is that I do get paid partly on teaching hours. This is something to check in your contract!


The other thing to check is how many lessons you can duplicate through the week. This has a huge impact on your preparation time. For example, I taught 4 classes a week in the Business English department. However, they were 4 different cohorts of the same degree stream. So I could teach the same lesson 4 times a week.


The killer as far as preparation time is if you have the same cohort of students for more than once a week. One of my peers sees one group of students three times a week. This can be tough as you’ll really struggle to come up with enough new material for them, and you’ll have to keep switching lesson types in order to prevent them getting bored.


To cut your preparation time you can do things like setting groupwork homework, and then review the homework presentations in class. But do this too much and the students will complain about getting too much homework! Exams and tests are also pretty easy to prepare.


Finally once you’ve done your first year’s teaching, then subsequent years become much easier as you can reuse your favourite lesson plans. Sometimes you’ll be asked to go to meetings, judge talent competitions or generally just be seen at university events. Try to push to get paid for these, or you’ll end up getting taken advantage of.


Cheap Canteen Meals


OK so most contracts specify that you get cheap food on campus. However, not many foreign teachers tend to take up this offer.


It’s worth checking it out though, because campus food tends to be very cheap indeed. For example, for 2 RMB I can get this in my school’s canteen: 


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In our school you get a bowl of rice, one meat or fish dish and two vegetable dishes. You can get to choose which dishes you want (just point and nod your head when the server hovers over the dish you like the look of).


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