12 Points to Consider Before Signing a University Job Contract

Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you look over your university job contract carefully. Here are 12 things to look out for. I've tailored this list to Korean contracts, but it's still relevant for working in other countries.

1. Base contract hours: The first thing you want look for in the job description is the number of contract hours. This means the minimum number of hours per week you need to work to earn your base salary. The lower the number of base hours the better – 12 per week or less is ideal in Korea.

Why is this number so important? Because any hours you teach over 12 will be considered overtime. You’ll get additional pay for those hours, but in many countries the overtime rate is not as nearly competitive as your hourly rate for your base hours. For example, many universities in Korea pay less than $20 per hour for overtime, whereas each base hour pays up to $100 or more.

Also, let’s say you teach an additional four hours per week (over your base of 12) for a total of 16 hours. If you get paid $20 per hour for overtime, you’ll make an additional $80 per week. That means you’ve increased your salary by $320 per month. On the other hand, let’s say your base contract hours are 16 per week. That means you’ll have to work four hours more per week to make the same amount of money as the teacher with a base salary of 12 (considering the monthly salaries are the same). In other words, it will take you 5 weeks of work to earn the same amount as someone else doing the same job does in just 4 weeks.

2. Overtime Pay: The overtime pay is not always as good as your base pay rate. Find out what it is if it's not stated in the contract. Universities tend to pay anywhere from $15-$40 per hour for overtime pay in Korea. Night classes usually pay a little more. If the overtime pay isn’t stated in the job description, you might want to find out what it is if you are required to do a bunch of overtime.

3. Vacation: The best jobs in Korea offer 16 weeks of vacation – 8 in the summer and 8 in the winter. Teachers continue to receive their pay during vacation time. Some schools require teachers to work at summer or winter English camps. Usually, these camps are considered overtime and the pay for working a camp is in addition to the regular salary, but not always.

4. Summer/Winter Camps: Find out if there are camps at the school. They usually last anywhere from one week to a month. What age group will you be teaching? What topics? Are they mandatory? Will you be paid extra for working at the camps? How many days do they last?

5. Contract Period: Usually most university contracts are for one year. However, it’s not uncommon to find two-year contracts. The big thing to look out for though is if there a limit to the amount of time that you can work at the university.

Some universities in Korea, usually the ones that are part of the national university system, limit the amount of time a teacher can work at a particular school. For instance, if your school limits your contract to three years, then you'll have to find a new job regardless of how well you’re doing.

6. Housing Stipend: The majority of universities offer some kind of housing support. Some don't. This can come in the form of either a stipend or fully paid university housing. In Korea, the housing stipends are paid monthly and are between $300 and $500, depending on what part of the country you work in.

7. Return Ticket Home: Many schools offered to pay a return ticket home upon completion of one or two years of work.

8. Pay increase: Some schools offer a yearly raise, albeit a small one (about $100), to keep up with inflation. Unfortunately most schools don't offer annual raises.

9. Yearly Bonus: Some universities offer a yearly bonus equivalent to one month’s salary. National universities in Korea usually offer this.

10. Pension: In some countries, your employer will offer some sort of pension plan. All Korean universities must bylaw offer a pension to its workers. These pensions are either invested privately or by the government. About 10% of your income is withheld from every paycheck. You will get this money back once you finish your contract and leave Korea. It is something entirely different from the yearly bonus.

11. Office Hours: Professors are usually required to have about three office hours per week. All this means is that you are sitting in your office and available if any students want to come by and ask questions. Some universities have you do "office hours" in the language cafe. You are essentially hanging out with students and expected to answer questions, play games, or chat with whoever feels like stopping by. Some schools advertise that teachers have to do this 6 hours a week, which seems like quite a bit more work than the norm.

12. Health Insurance: You should have some sort of health insurance no matter what country you are in. Korean employers must provide insurance to its workers by law. University jobs participate in Korea's National Health Insurance system. Any member can use medical institutions at a discount by paying a certain amount of money every month according to income. For more information, go to www.Korea.net and click on “Living in Korea.”

Once you know all these things, you'll be better able to figure out if a job offer is a good one. To do that, read You’re gonna’ pay me what?!: How to Evaluate a University Job Salary.

Pete DeMarco

Pete DeMarco is the founder of Profs Abroad. He also teaches English writing and conversation at Busan University of Foreign Studies in South Korea.