Teacher salaries: which countries pay the most and the least in Europe?

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Teachers are often hailed as heroes to be celebrated, but in many countries there is little cause for celebration as teachers are unhappy on their wages and working conditions.

In early September, thousands parade in Budapest demanding higher wages. Teachers in the UK are also considering striking for better pay.

How much are teachers paid in Europe? Which countries pay teachers the most and the least? And how much have teacher salaries changed over the past decade?

There are significant differences in teacher salaries between European countries.

According compiled country data by the European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice.

The average teacher salary in European Union (EU) countries is €25,055.

Teachers in France and Italy earn half of what they earn in Germany

Apart from Luxembourg, the annual starting salary was above €50,000 in only two countries, namely Switzerland (€66,972) and Germany (€54,129).

The annual salary in France and Italy was less than half the German figure.

Bulgaria had the lowest annual starting salary among EU countries at €7,731. The figure is also below €10,000 in several other EU countries such as Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Poland.

The Purchasing Power Standard (PPS) is an “artificial monetary unit” defined by Eurostat, where a PPS unit can theoretically buy the same amount of goods and services in each country. Examining SPA salaries irons out some of the cost-of-living differences between countries, but there are still big disparities.

Teacher salaries viewed in this light ranged from PPS 7,824 in Albania to PPS 50,357 in Germany. While the gross annual starting salary of teachers is generally between PPS 20,000 and 30,000, it remains below PPS 20,000 in 10 EU countries: Estonia, Malta, Czechia, Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia respectively.

The Balkan countries, Montenegro and North Macedonia, which are not part of the EU, have higher SPA teacher salaries than several EU countries. Surprisingly, Turkey ranks much better in PPS (28,455) than in nominal salary (€8,330): while it ranks 28th out of 36 countries in nominal figures, it comes 11th in PPS.

How do the salaries of European teachers compare to the minimum wage?

The ratio of teachers’ salaries to the minimum wage shows how much teachers earn relative to the minimum wage in each country. The ratio is calculated by dividing the gross teacher salary by the gross minimum salary.

This ratio is highest in Germany with 2.8 while Poland has the lowest ratio with 1.1.

In other words, the starting salary for teachers in Poland is very close to the minimum wage, while teachers starting out in German public schools earn nearly three times the minimum wage.

The average ratio in the 21 EU countries is 1.86, while it is only 1.4 in France and Greece.

In most European countries, teachers starting work in public schools also earn, on average, significantly less than the national gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.

Their starting annual gross statutory salary was higher than GDP per capita in only seven of the 36 countries. The highest wage to GDP per capita ratio was recorded in North Macedonia at 1.28, while it was lowest in Ireland at 0.45.

While Germany is one of the countries with the highest GDP per capita in Europe, the ratio is 1.26, which means that beginning teachers still earn more than the average GDP per capita. On the other hand, this ratio is only 0.71 in France.

How have teacher salaries changed over the past decade?

The latest Eurydice report also provides figures for the period 2009/2010. At the time, teachers’ gross annual starting salaries ranged from €2,743 in Romania to €63,895 in Luxembourg.

The average in the 26 EU countries was €19,563 in 2009/2010. However, it was below €5,000 in six EU countries, namely Slovakia (€4,824), Poland (€4,462), Lithuania (€4,275), Latvia (€4,166) , Bulgaria (€2,761) and Romania (€2,743).

In other EU countries it typically ranged from €18,000 to €30,000, while starting salaries in Germany and Denmark exceeded €35,000.

The evolution of teachers’ annual gross starting salaries between 2009/2010 and 2020/2021 was highest in Lithuania, where salaries increased by 269% over these 11 years. Recent EU member states Romania and Bulgaria have also seen dramatic increases in teacher salaries over the past decade, by 193% and 180% respectively.

The starting salary of teachers has also increased by 42% in Germany, which already had the second highest salary during the period 2009/2010. The variation was less than 10% in six EU countries – Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Luxembourg.

Turkey is the only country on the list where entry-level teacher salaries have fallen over the decade, falling by €876, or 10%, likely due to the collapse of the Turkish lira in recent years.

In nominal terms, Iceland saw gross annual starting teacher salaries increase by €25,720 between 2009/2010 and 2020/2021, the largest increase among the countries studied, followed by Germany (€15,915) and Sweden (€15,135).

Starting salaries have also increased by more than €10,000 in Austria, Lithuania and Denmark.

Are teachers satisfied with their salaries?

The short answer is no.

According to the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), only an average of 26% of teachers across OECD countries and economies participating in TALIS believed their work was valued by society, and 39% were satisfied with their pay.

How much have countries spent on education?

In 2020, public spending on education in the EU amounted to €671 billion, or 5% of GDP.

The EU countries devoting the highest share of their GDP to education are Sweden (7%), Belgium and Estonia (6.6%), followed by Denmark (6.4%) in the EU.

Outside the bloc, Iceland spent 7.7% of its GDP on education. The lowest levels of education expenditure as a percentage of GDP were observed in Ireland (3.1%), Romania (3.7%) and Bulgaria (4%).

How many students do the teachers look after?

In the EU, the average number of pupils per teacher at primary level was 13.6 in 2020, but again there are significant variations between countries.

The lowest ratios – which some would call ideal – were recorded in Greece (8.4), Luxembourg (8.9) and Hungary (10), while the United Kingdom (19.9), Romania (19.2) and France (18.4) had the highest average number of students per teacher.

The student-teacher ratio is calculated by dividing the number of full-time equivalent students by the number of full-time equivalent teachers.

A worrying shortage of teachers

Last but not least, there is a worrying shortage of teachers in European countries.

More than 30,000 teaching positions remained vacant in Germany at the start of this academic year.

There is a shortage of 20,000 teachers in Poland and 16,000 in Hungary, and the French education ministry said 4,000 of some 27,300 new teaching posts remained vacant.

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