More than five years ago, a university in China made the high-profile claim that it would hire Taiwanese academics with doctoral degrees, offering annual salaries of NT$2 million (US$67,707 at the current exchange rate). An academic surnamed Chen (陳) went to the recruitment event and was subsequently hired by the university. Less than three years later, before his contract ended, he was sacked.
After returning to Taiwan, he filed a lawsuit against National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Normal University — the institutions that rented out the venue for the recruitment fair, accusing them of contravening the law and misleading lecturers, causing them to fall into a Chinese trap. The court has ruled against Chen.
Chinese firms often poach employees from Taiwan by offering high salaries. Some are sacked once their employer have gotten what they wanted, while others achieve great success. This is how supply, demand and the market mechanism work.
However, here are a few reasons that Taiwanese media could be said to have misled Chen and others with their exaggerated reporting.
“With salaries lower than elementary-school teachers, which professor would stay in Taiwan?” asked a July 2011 headline in the Chinese-language Global Views Monthly magazine.
“China hires finance and economics professors, paying NT$10 million annually,” TVBS News said in March 2015.
The reports said that annual salaries offered by Chinese universities ranged from 700,000 yuan to 2 million yuan (US$100,268 to US$286,480), and that the annual salary of a university professor in Taiwan was NT$960,000, compared with NT$3 million in China.
This is not correct. On Professional Technology Temple, Taiwan’s biggest online bulletin board system, people quoted the report “Academic Salaries and Contracts: Global Trends and American Realities,” in which professorial salaries in different countries were adjusted using a purchasing power parity index.
After the adjustment, salaries in China still remained in the bottom group, ranking third from the bottom among 28 countries. Had it been included in the report, Taiwan would have been in the upper-middle range, at 11th place.
However, Taiwanese media continued the hype: ETtoday in June 2018 reported that “Professor salaries in China are 22 times higher than in Taiwan!”
Moreover, the media talked about an “outflow” or even “exodus” of academics, such as CommonWealth Magazine in February 2018: “Exodus of Taiwanese professors: Who will teach our college students in the future?”
Another example was an April 18 article in Global Views Monthly, with the headline “1,000 Taiwanese teachers move to China to survive.”
The report referred to an announcement by the education department in China’s Fujian Province, which said that by this year, it would hire 1,000 outstanding full time lecturers from Taiwan to teach at universities across the province, in response to a provincial free-trade zone and industrial development.
The flow of doctorate holders should not be limited to teaching in universities. A dozen listed companies in Taiwan pay non-managerial salaries averaging more than NT$2 million per year. Perhaps Chen could try his luck in another market.
In 2018, the media predicted an expected shortage of teachers in Taiwan’s institutions of higher education, but in an article in September last year CommonWealth Magazine reported that as universities have to close amid the nation’s falling birthrate, the problem that teachers face is not being able to find a well-paying position. Rather, they are at their wits’ end and are therefore looking to China once again.
This is how the market mechanism works.
Wu Hai-jui is a professional manager of a listed company.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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