Peking University, known colloquially as Bei Da, is generally considered China’s most prestigious and elite university. Less well-known is how much assistant professors get paid there. If you’ve been following some of the debates surrounding higher education in China you might have heard complaints that all professors care about these days is money. They are perfunctory about their teaching duties and spend most of their time doing things — be it teaching at private institutions or lucrative research — that make them money.
The latest chapter in this debate, like so many others, started on a blog. Ah Yi (阿忆), an assistant professor at Bei Da, revealed on a blog that he only makes about 4,786 RMB per month. He calculated this number by adding up his base salary with the sundry stipends and reimbursements he gets. All this was a reply to accusations that he spent too much time on TV, sometimes as host, sometimes as a guest. We’re not sure if this is really news? The Hindu reported earlier this year that:
The official national salary given to a full professor in China today as set out by the Ministry of Education (MoE) is a mere RMB 4,000 ($500) a month. But for the last few years the Government has permitted individual academic departments to supplement official salaries with private funds that the departments raise through fees, consultancies, and commercial spin offs.
And some people decide to go on TV — so do they just get more flack because their extra income is earned in a more public fashion?
Peking University has seen its fair share of criticisms recently. China’s top universities have been given grants amounting to billions of RMB to launch them into world-class status. Towards this end, they’ve been recruiting Chinese professors from overseas, many of whom are in the latter phases of their careers — near or in retirement. They’re lured back with a lucrative income comparable to what they’d make in the West, while still enjoying their retirement stipend from the “home” universities in the West.
The Sun Bin blog has a post on this phenomenon of overseas Chinese profs and their double-tenure incomes. Recently, S.T. Yau, a Fields Medal winner and arguably the most famous and influential Chinese mathematician alive, criticized Peking University for widespread plagiarism and luring overseas Chinese researchers back who are either not all they’re cracked up to be or don’t really spend enough time and energy at the university to really make a difference.
Yau reserved the harshest criticism for his own student, the Princeton University mathematician Tian Gang. Yau said that Tian really only spent about 1-2 months in Beijing and yet was compensated with about 1 million RMB per annum for this. Peking University remained strangely silent about Yau’s accusations until recently, when it released an official rebuttal which basically — suprise, surprise — denied the substance of Yau’s criticisms. Tian Gang recently ended his vow of silence with the media and declared that he would spend more time in Beijing, and when they completed some research center, would move there full time.
So if someone asks you how much a professor in China makes, you at least know the range — as low as 4,000ish a month to 1 million a year, or about 80,000 a month over an entire year.
Photo of Beijing University from kitkatcathy.