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Section I: Teaching English in China continued—Teaching Employment

Teaching in Fields Other Than English

University academicians with professional degrees, e.g., law, nursing, medicine, psychology, etc., and career educators with advanced degrees and teaching experience in fields other than English, e.g., math, science, social sciences, etc., may wonder if teaching opportunities exist for foreigners in mainland China outside of English language teaching. The answer is they do, but in limited number.

Foreign professors in mainland China are essentially treated as adjunct faculty members and work without the benefit of medical insurance, bonuses, and pension plans...

Foreigners who are certified as primary and secondary school teachers in their countries of origin, especially in math and the natural sciences, may want to consider applying to international schools in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou. Salaries at these schools are often comparable to or even better than what one could earn in his or her native country. For a list of schools in each of these cities, simply conduct an Internet search on "international school" and the name of your desired city in China, e.g., "international school" Beijing.

Those with advanced professional degrees and extensive experience in disciplines outside of linguistics and English face a very different set of circumstances. For example, a doctor and former professor of biology may think that China would warmly welcome his expertise and have a clear place for him in the educational system—but, barring the notable exception below, he would be sadly mistaken.

The problem is a multifaceted one. For starters, unless one were fluent in Chinese, the language barrier would prove to be a formidable one: No matter how brilliant one might be in his field of expertise, if a professor can’t communicate with his students and colleagues, it’s all rather futile. Second, with the exception of a special “visiting scholars program,” available at the 106 select key institutions designed as "Project 211" universities across China (see next section), foreigners with advanced degrees and teaching experience in other disciplines would fall under the same SAFEA guidelines that are currently in effect for all foreign experts who simply meet the minimum EFL teaching requirements.

In other words and for example, aside from the few opportunities afforded by Project 211 universities, a 60-year old doctor and former professor of finite mathematics would be subject to the same terms, conditions and treatment as a recent college graduate teaching oral English at the vast majority of public and private universities on the mainland. There might be some initial superfluous talk about having such an individual teach a university-wide “special elective course" in his discipline, but, at the end of the day, what he will finally be offered is a position teaching EFL-related courses for approximately 500 to 700 yuan more per month than his 24-year old counterpart is currently earning for doing essentially the same job—as incredible as this may seem.

The only rare exception to this would be at a university that just happened to offer English language courses in that Western professor’s specific area of expertise. However, even in this highly fortuitous and rare situation, foreign professors in mainland China are essentially treated as adjunct faculty members and work without the benefit of medical insurance, bonuses, and pension plans that are afforded to Chinese nationals. While the same academic rank held in one's country of origin will be recognized in China as a courtesy (and used to determine pay grade), it has no real institutional or official meaning.

The sad reality is that China's current system for hiring foreign experts is remarkably limited in that it was essentially designed to bring in, first, temporary technical advisors and, second, foreigners who could improve the English language listening and speaking skills of their citizenry: There doesn't seem to be much of a clearly defined role here for anyone else, regardless of education and expertise.

Project 211 Universities

Project 211 schools, which constitute only about six percent of China's 1,700 institutions of higher education, are charged with the responsibility of training 80% of all doctoral students, 66% of all graduate students, 50% of all foreign students, and as much as one-third of all undergraduates. They offer 85 percent of the higher educational system's key subjects, hold 96 percent of the country's key laboratories, and absorb 70 percent of all scientific research funding (People's Daily, 2008).

Because these "211 schools" are charged with providing education to 50% of all of China's foreign students, they appear to have a pressing need for English-speaking Western faculty, especially those with university teaching experience in their native countries. Foreign professors can expect to be offered between 8,000 to 12,000 yuan per month—depending on experience, their alma mater, publication record, university location, and assigned rank—for teaching between eight to 12 credit hours per semester in their fields of expertise (four to six 100-minute classes of face-to-face teaching per week). In reality, this teaching load represents more than twice what Western professors are accustomed to working and in some universities Western professors will be "urged" to abandon textbook assignment and convert all their notes and class lectures to PowerPoint presentations (which, in essence, become the class textbooks) so that they can later be used by the Chinese faculty. You can examine our page on Project 211 Universities for a complete list of all 106 schools.

Those with advanced degrees in typical academic disciplines, e.g., math, sciences, humanities, etc., as well as healthcare, e.g., nursing, medicine, pharmacy, the behavioral sciences, etc., and years of experience teaching at undergraduate and post-graduate institutions may want to give some thought to contacting medical schools and International Colleges (or departments) within large government universities, especially those at key universities designated as Project 211 institutions. In addition, the World Health Organization maintains a list of Internationally Approved Medical Schools in China and those offering programs in both Chinese and English would be a very good place to start. Contact information is provided for each school.

Hong Kong and Macau

Those with advanced degrees and university teaching experience in disciplines other than linguistics and English are strongly advised to consider applying for university positions outside the mainland, i.e., Macau and, especially, Hong Kong, where virtually all the universities deliver core courses in English. However, bear in mind that the recruitment criteria for hiring faculty at these universities are no different than those back home, and, in many cases, are more stringent. Consequently, candidates without strong publication records (especially in regard to funded empirical research) will, generally speaking, be unsuccessful. Check our page on China EFL Teacher Resources for a link to job sites that advertise academic positions in Hong Kong and Macau.


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Middle Kingdom Life is the premier award-winning educational website for foreign teachers and Western expats in China. It was founded by an American professor in psychology and sociology for the purpose of disseminating valid and reliable information about living and teaching in China. The site's mission is to protect and enhance the interests and social welfare of foreign teachers and Western expats in China.

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