|It has become a common sight in Chinese universities: poor professors cycling to classes on Flying Pigeon bicycles, while their higher-paid colleagues arrive in stylish BMWs. The disparity is a symbol of the large income gap which now exists on campuses across China. [File photo]|
It has become a common sight in Chinese universities: poor professors cycling to classes on Flying Pigeon bicycles, while their higher-paid colleagues arrive in stylish BMWs. The disparity is a symbol of the large income gap which now exists on campuses across China.
Such a situation is unimaginable to those who taught at Chinese universities in the past. One 81-year-old former university president, who refused to disclose his name, commented that he found the present day situation unbelievable.
He stated that, before China's policy of reform and opening-up, professors could barely feed themselves. A simple bicycle would cost them six months' salary.
In general, there was no real income difference among professors at the same level or with the same title; the rules were transparent and simple: a higher title meant a larger apartment and a ten-yuan (US$1.57) increase on the monthly salary.
The former university president said that, even as university president, he had no extra income apart from the extra monthly duty allowance.
Despite these issues, he became involved in the independent research and development of China's first diesel engine in Dalian in 1958. As it was not a national research project, the project received no funding. However, his department won the support of Dalian Shipyard.
For more than a year, a group of teachers, along with a class of students, worked on numerous experiments before finally achieving success. At no point during the project did anyone mention money, the former president insisted. "We just wanted to prove that we could achieve our aim, as there was no diesel engine in China at that time," he said.
According to the former president, the income disparity among professors dates back to the late 1990s, and was attributed to program commissions and the so-called "gray income" earned from concurrent off-campus jobs.
Since then, he has been constantly working to update his knowledge and understanding of the university system and the teachers within it.
The former president stated that, at his university in 1983, in order to decide which associate professor should be promoted, a group of older professors simply wrote their recommendations on a piece of paper.
The result was announced on the spot and later reported to the provincial Department of Education. He commented that today's method, where professors are dependent on form-filling and the number of papers they've had published, is very different indeed.
He also described as "ridiculous" the way in which some academic titles were conferred.
In one example from several years ago, he recalled hearing about several associate professors in search of promotion who spent a month of their summer holiday vacation attending English classes. Those who attended the classes passed the exam. However, one professor, who did not take the classes, yet had a better overall command of English, only scored 55.
"How could they possibly assess university professors solely on their exam performance?" he exclaimed.