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A Comparison of Nigerian and American University Teachers (III)

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. This series has dragged on longer than I wanted it to be.   As I indicated last week, I will conclude it...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This series has dragged on longer than I wanted it to be.  As I indicated last week, I will conclude it this week by responding to a few of the questions readers asked me in the past few weeks.

Some readers wanted me to compare the salaries of university teachers in Nigeria and the United States. That’s a difficult task— for at least two reasons. First, Nigeria and America have vastly different socio-economic realities, so a comparison of the salaries of university teachers in both countries can lead to false, misleading equivalencies. 

Second, unlike in Nigeria, there is no uniform salary for university teachers in the US. Teachers with the same qualification, the same years of experience, the same disciplinary expertise, etc. may have radically different salaries. Salaries are determined by a number of factors: scholarly productivity, teaching effectiveness, need, location, cost of living, discipline, etc. For instance, teachers in California, Massachusetts, and New York earn higher salaries than teachers in the American south because of differences in the cost of living of these places. Teachers in the sciences and in business administration earn way higher salaries than teachers in the humanities and the social sciences, etc.

The difficulty of the comparison is made even worse by the differences in the hierarchies and qualifications of university teachers in Nigeria and the United States.  Over 60 percent of Nigerian university teachers have no PhDs, whereas PhD is the minimum qualification to teach in a US university. Of course, there are "professors of practice" who have deep industry experience but have no PhD. But that's usually only in disciplines that are vocational.

 American universities have no graduate assistants and assistant lecturers in the same way that Nigeria universities have.  In America, people who teach with a first degree are often master’s degree students who assist full-time teachers, who have Ph.Ds, to teach basic, lower-division-level courses. They are not employees of the university. On average, they earn between $500 and $800 monthly, plus tuition waiver.  That translates to between N81,000 and N130,000 per month.

Most people who teach in American universities with a master's degree are also often PhD students who are not employees of the university. They earn, on average, between $800 and $1500 monthly. That is, between N130,000 and N245,000 per month. Note that these figures vary widely based on location and discipline. Also note that at least 35 percent of this amount is paid back as tax.

 Full-time faculty salaries also vary widely based on location, discipline, experience, scholarly output, reputation, etc. The average salary for a new PhD in the humanities and social sciences ranges from $45,000 (about N7.3 million) per annum in small state universities to $109,000 (about N17.8 million) per annum in big, rich private universities like Harvard.  Remember, too, that at least 35 percent of this is paid back to the government as tax. 

By the way, the salaries of university teachers, especially in state universities, are public information.  Anybody with Internet access can find exactly how much any university teacher earns. I read somewhere that Nigerian university teachers are threatening to go on another strike because government wants to make their salaries publicly available--or something close to that. 

It is also worth noting that, in America, university teachers aren’t regarded as constituting “the critical mass of scholars in the society” who deserve  “unique conditions that will motivate them ... to attain greater efficiency, ” as ASUU’s 2009 agreement says of Nigerian university teachers.  Although universities are central to knowledge production and circulation, many universities teachers I have met here regard the opportunity to teach as a privilege, not a reason to claim a special status in society.

As a result, university teachers in America don’t have a special salary scale. In fact, I know many high school teachers who earn more money than some university teachers. For instance, three years ago, I met a high school teacher with a Ph.D. who turned down a university teaching job because he found his secondary school teaching more financially rewarding and less stressful than university teaching. Well, the truth is that, generally speaking, in America, teaching isn’t the profession people who want to make a lot of money choose. People choose to teach because they are animated by the passion to learn, unlearn, relearn, share knowledge and mold the minds of young people. 

I do not, by this, mean that it’s wrong for Nigerian university teachers to demand better remuneration and conditions of service for themselves. I am just uneasy with ASUU’s perennially crippling strikes ostensibly to “save” university education from collapse. Well, I think going on strike every so often to “save” the university system is like periodically going to war in defense of peace.

Some readers also asked me to comment on the validity and utility of student evaluations of teachers, especially because I pointed out that even in America students sometimes abuse the evaluations to “punish” teachers who push them too hard in a course.  There is no denying that student evaluations are not entirely reliable.  However, they can help point out patterns in teachers' instructional inefficiencies. A teacher who consistently gets bad evaluations over the same issues in different years is certainly due for a reprimand. Besides, I'd rather have "biased" student evaluations than the current instructional impunity in Nigeria.

There is a lot more to compare between Nigerian and American university teachers, but I have to stop here—at least for now.


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