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Jun 24th, 2020 by David O Connor

What it’s Like to Work in a University in China

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Universities in China come in all shapes and sizes: from the famous and prestigious like Tsinghua or Peking in Beijing, that have huge international student/teacher populations, to the more rural vocational universities in the provincial cities, where you could be the only non-Chinese person your students have ever seen.

Generally, when compared to the West, Chinese universities are more communal: students live in 4-8 -bed dormitories and have shared regular meal times in the campus canteens. Class times and assessments are also standardised, so students all take a similar number of classes, regardless of major, and will all have a final exam.

In addition to this, the students’ free time is also regulated. They are required to complete a set amount of extra-curricular activities every semester: these can include swimming, Chinese classes and volunteering. Overall, the environment in a Chinese University is unlike what we have in the West and is somewhere between our experience of university and high school. Prospective teachers should keep this in mind.

A regular week Teaching in a University in China

Ordinarily, teachers at universities are required to teach both lectures and tutorials throughout the week. The teaching load is relatively light (12-18 hours) but this is offset by the amount of marking which is often required, as well as additional office hours. Some universities also require instructors to staff writing centres or judge student competitions. That being said, the workload for university teaching in China is generally considered to be on the lighter side when compared to middle schools or private academies, with teaching often concentrated over 3-4 days, giving teachers extra time off campus.

What I teach My University Students in China

I work for a joint Western/Chinese institute in Hangzhou. My job involves teaching students the basics of academic English, essay styles, and best practice for research. I am also involved in curriculum development and course management. I often act as a sounding board for the students when they are looking for support with their work for other classes. In this way, my role is somewhat pastoral when compared to subject lecturers. The students will often feel that they can come to me with their issues and I will help them solve them. At my institution, non-Chinese also work in other disciplines apart from English language.

What Does a Teacher in a University in China Usually Do?

University English teachers in China often act as the bridge between the students experience in high school and what is expected of them in their major classes at university. So, in addition to lecturing and running tutorials, we are often asked to staff writing centres, run English corners and assist with general academic issues ranging from referencing and research to applications for funding and publication.

Teach in a University in China

What I Love Most About Teaching University in China

This job gives me the opportunity to engage with and learn from some of the brightest young minds in China. I get a real chance to see things from their perspective and understand the issues which are important in their life. In addition, I am given quite a lot of autonomy so I can run my lessons the way I want. In my spare time, I study Chinese or work on furthering my qualifications. None of this would be possible if I taught in a different environment. Beyond this, of course, I really love the holidays I get at University and the opportunities I have had to explore China and Asia.

What You Need to Teach University in China

Requirements for teaching at a university are not consistent between institutions. Generally, if you wish to teach in a large city such as Beijing or Shanghai, a master’s degree in a related discipline is preferred, as well as a teaching certificate. However, if you teach at a more provincial university, these requirements may be relaxed.


In terms of personality, university teachers are expected to hold the attention of large numbers of students and be able to relate complex concepts to them in a way they can understand. In this way – it is important for prospective university teachers to be erudite, engaging, calm and empathetic to student needs. We are also expected to keep abreast of the general trends in our discipline and relay this information to the students.

What Are the Benefits for University Teachers in China?

When compared to other ESL teaching jobs in China, the salary for university teachers can appear to be quite low. However, this is offset by the often long holidays (at least 1 month for CNY and 2 months in summer) and low teaching load. This low teaching load allows staff to conduct their own research, professional development or to study Chinese (classes are often provided).

Some universities also offer on-campus accommodation free for staff and a return airfare once per year. In addition, some universities give staff a meal allowance, conference allowance and free access to on campus facilities such as gyms etc.

The Salary I Can Earn as a University Teacher in China

It is difficult to say exactly how much people can earn at a university in China as it varies so much. In a big city like Beijing, you can expect anywhere between 10 and 20,000RMB, whereas in a more provincial city, this could be considerably lower. That being said, working at a university does have fringe benefits such as: more time to pursue language study, professional development (perhaps even sponsored), access to side jobs such as editing or IELTS coaching. Experienced teachers can also get work on pre-sessional programs in China to supplement their income over the summer or during the CNY holiday.

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David O Connor

David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.

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