How well does Switzerland pay its teachers?

Teachers in canton Neuchatel protested federal salary measures in November of last year Keystone

In a comparison of Swiss salaries, teachers do fairly well with earnings above many other professions. But is there more to the story?

This content was published on April 11, 2017 minutes

According to salary data from the Conference of Education Directors for German-speaking Switzerland, a Zurich-area upper secondary school teacher – the highest academic level besides university – can expect to earn CHF110,590 in the first year, or CHF8,506 per month under the Swiss 13-month salary system. But a teacher in the same job in neighbouring St Gallen makes CHF15,000 per year less, exposing the often significant salary discrepancies among cantons which also have varying costs of living.

When placed in an international context, Swiss teacher salaries are high even when accounting for purchasing power parity - or countries' varying costs of living - as the data shown below shows.

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However, many teacher salaries have stagnated in recent years, with data showing that an upper secondary school teacher in St Gallen earned the same amount in 2015 as in 1993 although the inflation rate has increased by 15.3%. And a 2009 study by the Swiss Teachers’ Association showed that the average instructor works 9-hour days, or about 45 hours per week instead of the standard 40.

Stagnating salaries and having to fit more material into less instruction time recently caused teachers and students to take to the streets in Switzerland to demand an end to budget cuts that led to furloughs and infrastructure problems in some schools.

Of course, when looking at Swiss salaries, it’s important to keep in mind that the country’s cost of living is among the highest in the world. The budget below shows what a typical middle-class family might spend their earnings on in a given month.

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