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Exploring the Ethnic Gap in Teacher Salaries in International Schools


Abstract and Figures

As the global international school industry grows, more host-country national (HCN) teachers work alongside expatriate teachers in international schools. In up to 32% of international schools, expatriate teachers receive higher salaries than the local teaching staff for the same work, a phenomenon known as a split salary. Despite the prevalence, there has been very little research on split salaries in international schools from the perspectives of HCN teachers. This qualitative phenomenological study filled the gap by exploring the research question, What are the lived work experiences and perceptions of HCN teachers employed in international schools utilizing a split-salary scale? Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness served as the theoretical framework to answer the research question. Ten HCN participants took part in one-on-one, semistructured interviews. The collected interview data underwent software transcription and hand analysis to identify standard codes and themes that emerged from the data, with the themes and subthemes generated inductively. Three key themes emerged—power, othering, and the cost of compromise—as HCN teachers struggled to reconcile working in an environment that implicitly suggests they will never be good enough. This research can inform administrators and school owners that international schools should no longer be bastions of privilege. Using a purely competitive business approach to staffing does not align with international school missions.
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Exploring the Ethnic Gap in Teacher Salaries in International Schools
Liam Leslie Hammer
Wilkes University
A dissertation submitted to the
School of Education
Wilkes University
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Education
December 10th, 2021
Rhonda Rabbitt
Copyright © 2021 Liam Hammer
All rights reserved
To my participants, the host-country national teachers: You taught me to question my
expatriate, privileged bubble, open my eyes to injustice, and acknowledge my part in
perpetuating the systematic racism in many international schools worldwide. Thank you for
partnering with me and allowing me to ally with you to contribute to the field. May it help effect
change, for change is needed.
I would like to thank Dr. Gillies, my Chair. Your gentle patience, expertise, and guidance
along the way helped encourage and sustain me along this journey. Thank you to my committee
members, Drs. Berry, Frederickson, Pryle, and Reinert. To Wilkes’ School of Education faculty:
You are genuinely, passionately unique and unapologetically student-centered educators.
My cohort and friends, “The Disruptive Dozen”: We climbed that mountain together!
To all the other international school colleagues and leaders with whom I have been
fortunate to work with along the way: Conversations, actions and work have shown me that this
issue is not as binary as I once thought.
Last but not least, my partner, friend, colleague, and wife, Keyren Yoso, encouraged me
to start this journey, believing in me before I believed in myself. You gave me support,
encouragement, and critique along the way, as needed, and allowed me to see through the eyes of
a host-country national working in international schools. For everything, thank you!
As the global international school industry grows, more host-country national (HCN)
teachers work alongside expatriate teachers in international schools. In up to 32% of
international schools, expatriate teachers receive higher salaries than the local teaching staff for
the same work, a phenomenon known as a split salary. Despite the prevalence, there has been
very little research on split salaries in international schools from the perspectives of HCN
teachers. This qualitative phenomenological study filled the gap by exploring the research
question, What are the lived work experiences and perceptions of HCN teachers employed in
international schools utilizing a split-salary scale? Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness served as
the theoretical framework to answer the research question. Ten HCN participants took part in
one-on-one, semistructured interviews. The collected interview data underwent software
transcription and hand analysis to identify standard codes and themes that emerged from the
data, with the themes and subthemes generated inductively. Three key themes emerged—power,
othering, and the cost of compromise—as HCN teachers struggled to reconcile working in an
environment that implicitly suggests they will never be good enough. This research can inform
administrators and school owners that international schools should no longer be bastions of
privilege. Using a purely competitive business approach to staffing does not align with
international school missions.
Keywords: expatriate compensation, equity, host-country nationals, international
schools, split-salary scale, teacher compensation
Table of Contents
Dedication ...................................................................................................................... i!
Acknowledgments ......................................................................................................... ii!
Abstract ........................................................................................................................ iii!
Table of Contents ......................................................................................................... iv!
List of Tables ............................................................................................................. viii!
List of Figures .............................................................................................................. ix!
Chapter I. Statement of the Problem ............................................................................................... 1!
Problem Statement .............................................................................................................. 3!
Purpose of the Study ........................................................................................................... 5!
Research Question .............................................................................................................. 5!
Theoretical Framework ....................................................................................................... 5!
Significance of the Study .................................................................................................... 7!
Definition of Terms ............................................................................................................. 8!
Chapter II. Review of the Literature ............................................................................................. 12!
Overview of Related Research .......................................................................................... 12!
Context of International Schools ...................................................................................... 13!
The International School Industry .............................................................................. 21!
Expatriate Compensation in Multinational Companies .................................................... 23!
The Role of Host-Country Nationals .......................................................................... 25!
Split Labor Markets .................................................................................................... 26!
Teachers in International Schools ..................................................................................... 28!
Teachers as a Commodity ........................................................................................... 29!
Compensation Practices in International Schools ............................................................. 30!
Recruitment in International Schools ................................................................................ 36!
Theoretical Framework ..................................................................................................... 37!
Summary ........................................................................................................................... 40!
Chapter III: Methodology ............................................................................................................. 41!
Rationale for Approach ..................................................................................................... 41!
Research Design ................................................................................................................ 42!
Site and Sample Selection ................................................................................................. 43!
Data Collection Procedures ............................................................................................... 45!
Access ......................................................................................................................... 45!
Schedule ...................................................................................................................... 46!
Interview Protocol ....................................................................................................... 47!
Storage ........................................................................................................................ 47!
Ethical Considerations ...................................................................................................... 48!
Confidentiality ............................................................................................................ 48!
Informed Consent ........................................................................................................ 49!
Concern for Welfare ................................................................................................... 49!
Data Analysis .................................................................................................................... 50!
Protocol ....................................................................................................................... 50!
Role of the Researcher ...................................................................................................... 52!
Reflexive Journaling ......................................................................................................... 53!
Validity and Reliability ..................................................................................................... 55!
Summary ........................................................................................................................... 56!
Chapter IV: Findings ..................................................................................................................... 58!
Research Question ............................................................................................................ 58!
Discussion of Findings ...................................................................................................... 58!
The Participants .......................................................................................................... 58!
Brief Descriptions of the Participants ......................................................................... 61!
Major Themes With Supporting Evidence ....................................................................... 65!
Theme 1: Power .......................................................................................................... 66!
Theme 2: Othering ...................................................................................................... 83!
Theme 3: The Cost of Compromise ............................................................................ 96!
Conclusion ...................................................................................................................... 104!
Chapter V: Conclusions .............................................................................................................. 107!
Discussion of the Findings .............................................................................................. 109!
Reflection ........................................................................................................................ 114!
Recommendations for Practice ....................................................................................... 115!
Recommendations for Future Research .......................................................................... 117!
Limitations ...................................................................................................................... 118!
Summary ......................................................................................................................... 119!
References ................................................................................................................................... 120!
Gatekeeper Letter ...................................................................................................... 140!
Call for Participants via Email .................................................................................. 141!
Call for Participants via Social Media Post .............................................................. 142!
Semistructured Interview Protocol ........................................................................... 143!
Certificate of Social and Behavioral Research ......................................................... 146!
Letter of Informed Consent ....................................................................................... 147!
Teacher Correspondence Letter 1 ............................................................................. 149!
Teacher Correspondence Letter 2 – Demographic Data ........................................... 150!
List of Tables
4.1 Demographic Distribution of the Participants’ Nationalities ............................................... 59!
4.2 Demographic Schools Attended by the Host-Country National Participants ...................... 60!
4.3 Qualifications of Each Participant ....................................................................................... 63!
4.4 Themes and Subthemes of the Study ................................................................................... 66!
List of Figures
1.1 Approaches to Expatriate Compensation by Multinational Companies .............................. 25!
1.2 Expatriates and Host-Country National Teacher Compensation Determinants .................. 31!
1.3 Academy of International School Heads Surveys of International Schools
With Expat/Local Split Salaries ........................................................................................... 33!
4.1 Years of Teaching Experience ............................................................................................. 65!
4.2 Hierarchy of Teacher Salaries in International Schools in This Study ................................ 78!
4.3 Systematic Impartiality in International Schools ............................................................... 106!
Chapter I. Statement of the Problem
“Local teachers are not very many. So, the impact is so minimal. Yeah. Because nobody
knows the difference.”
Lutalo, Study Participant, 2021
The international school market is growing exponentially (Bates, 2011; Bunnell, 2014,
2021; Bunnell & Poole, 2020; Hayden & Thompson, 2008), with over 12,000 such institutions
worldwide (International Schools Consultancy [ISC] Research, 2021a). In addition, as global
economies improve and incomes rise, more families aspire to better educational standards for
their children than what local state education systems provide, which further amplifies the
schools’ growth (Hayden & Thompson, 2008; ISC Research, 2021b). This growth in
international schools has given rise to an international school industry (Bates, 2011; Bunnell,
2005; Macdonald, 2006), leading to increased competitiveness and globalization (Hughes, 2020;
Macdonald, 2006). As the number of international schools increases globally, so does the
demand for international school teachers, particularly those from the United States or the United
Kingdom (Bunnell & Poole, 2020; COBIS, 2020a; Gardner-McTaggart, 2018; International
School Services, 2018). Equally, as the number of international schools increases, there is a
proportional need for qualified host-country nationals (HCNs) and expatriate staff (Hayden,
2006; Hayden & Thompson, 2008; ISC Research, 2021b). The growing competition among
international schools has led to the commodification of international schoolteachers (Khalil,
2019). Thus, international schools must balance their financial viability with the unique demands
of the international school community (Tyvand, 2017).
International schools traditionally have a teaching staff that falls into three distinct
categories: (a) HCNs, (b) “local hireexpatriates, and (c) “overseas hireexpatriates (Hayden &
Thompson, 2008; Schwindt, 2003). Bunnell (2006) identified international schools’
organizational structure as comprising an administrative leadership core made up of the head and
deputies, a fringe of relatively highly paid professional expatriates on short-term contracts, and a
“large pool of lower-paid, locally hired staff(p. 168).
Many international schools have disproportionately more U.S. and U.K. expatriate
teachers than different nationalities, which would better align with student demographics
(Canterford, 2003; COBIS, 2020a; Gaskell, 2019; Khalil, 2019; Perez-Amurao & Sunanta,
2020). The imbalance of nationalities shows international schools’ recruitment bias for U.S. and
U.K. teachers (Bunnell & Poole, 2020) at the expense of opportunities for other expatriates or
local staff.
The problem is that in many international schools around the world, expatriate teachers
earn higher salaries than HCNs, even for the same job (Bunnell, 2006; Canterford, 2003; Hayden
& Thompson, 2008; Hughes, 2020; Khalil, 2019; Perez-Amurao & Sunanta, 2020; Schwindt,
2003; Tarc & Mishra Tarc, 2015; Tyvand, 2017). The remuneration difference stems from the
business principle of supply and demand, with salaries two to five times higher for expatriate
teachers (Chen et al., 2002; Oltra et al., 2013). The pay differential is particularly apparent in
countries from the Global South, which broadly refers to the regions of Latin America, Asia,
Africa, and Oceania and replaces the politically laden terms of Third World or developing world
countries (Dados & Connell, 2012).
International schools instruct using different languages; however, the majority use
English as the standard (Canterford, 2009; ISC Research, 2021a; Yoshihara, 2018). Thus, the
ability to speak and write fluently in English as the unofficial lingua franca has become a form
of cultural capital for nonnative English speakers, leading to new forms of educational
inequalities based on language (Yoshihara, 2018). Thus, a hierarchy of expatriate staff develops,
with the categorization into expatriates from English-speaking countries, variously referred to as
Western expatriates or native English speakers (NES), and expatriates from nonnative English-
speaking countries.
A qualitative phenomenological approach was appropriate to research the problem by
exploring the lived experiences and perceptions of HCN teachers who experienced the
phenomenon of a remuneration difference based on nationality or split-salary scale in
international schools.
Problem Statement
The problem is that in many international schools around the world, expatriate teachers
earn higher salaries than HCN, even for the same job (Bunnell, 2006; Canterford, 2003; Hayden
& Thompson, 2008; Hughes, 2020; Khalil, 2019; Perez-Amurao & Sunanta, 2020; Schwindt,
2003; Tarc & Mishra Tarc, 2015; Tyvand, 2017). Further compounding the disparity, locally
hired teachers rarely receive other benefits, such as housing, annual flights, free or reduced
tuition, opportunities for professional development, and leadership positions (Canterford, 2003;
Hayden, 2006; Zhang & McGrath, 2009).
Other terms used to refer to this phenomenon include expatriate pay differential (Bonache
et al., 2009), segmented labor market (Canterford, 2003, 2009), two-tier wage system (Chao et
al., 2002; Hughes, 2020; Martin & Peterson, 1987), ethnocentric pay policy (Mahajan, 2011;
Templar, 2010), wage differential (Brown & Lauder, 2012), or split-salary scale (Tyvand, 2017).
Split or segmented labor markets have arisen in many businesses and multinational companies
worldwide based on the need to attract highly qualified expatriates to overseas or remote areas
(Leung, Wang, & Hon, 2011; Phillips & Fox, 2003; Rodin, 1997; Sims & Schraeder, 2005; Toh
& DeNisi, 2003; Trevor-Smith, 1997). Chao et al. (2002) viewed the disparity between
expatriates and locals as unavoidable, but other scholars have indicated the need to close or
narrow this gap (Mahajan, 2009; Mahajan & Toh, 2014; Toh & DeNisi, 2003; Yoshihara, 2018).
Teachers’ salaries can influence job satisfaction (Tyvand, 2017; Yoshihara, 2018). An
employee’s salary reflects how much management values the contribution (Yoshihara, 2018).
Thus, a salary defines “the ‘worth’ of teachers based upon their nationalities(Tyvand, 2017, p.
97). When HCNs receive less pay than their expatriate colleagues, they experience injustice
(Oltra et al., 2013; Toh & DeNisi, 2003, 2005) with “a negative effect on staff morale
(Yoshihara, 2018, p. 100).
Furthermore, in multinational companies (MNCs), HCN support is instrumental to
expatriate success or failure (Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005; Mahajan, 2009; Mahajan & De
Silva, 2012; Toh & DeNisi, 2003, 2007). Expatriate adjustment is the time and effort expatriates
take to learn cultural and business norms as they arrive in a new workplace in a new country to
perform their jobs successfully. HCNs’ dissatisfaction can lead to a reluctance to contribute to
expatriates’ success (Mahajan, 2009; Toh & DeNisi, 2003), disrupting the business’s quality.
Although no researchers have specifically investigated expatriate adjustment and HCN support
in international schools, as schools become more businesslike, what occurs in MNCs is likely to
happen in international schools, which have become more business-oriented (MacDonald, 2006).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the phenomenon
of split salaries in international schools from the lived experiences and perspectives of HCN
teachers to better understand the effect on their experiences in those schools. Influencing the
design were Tyvand’s (2017) and Bunnell and Atkinson’s (2020) recommendations for more
qualitative studies to better understand the practice of split salaries in international schools. As
there is little research in this area, this investigation was a means to bring to life and illuminate
the stories of HCN teachers working in a split-salary environment. This study can help others
understand what it is like to work within such a differentiated salary system (Bunnell, 2007;
Khalil, 2019; Russell & Aquino-Russell, 2012; Takeuchi, 2010; Templar, 2010; Toh & DeNisi,
2003). Finally, the results of this study could allow international school boards and
administrators to consider how to mitigate this disparity.
Research Question
The research question that guided this study was, What are the lived work experiences
and perceptions of HCN teachers employed in international schools utilizing a split-salary scale?
Theoretical Framework
A lack of fairness implies that people do not receive what is commensurate with their
contributions (Rawls, 1999). The theoretical framework for this study was Rawls’ theory of
justice as fairness, which encompasses universal fundamental rights, equality of opportunity, and
promoting the interests of all members of society, regardless of station (Byars & Stanberry,
2018). Rawls developed the theory in response to utilitarianism theory, which noted that, when
unchecked, utilitarianism can lead to tyranny and overlooking the minority. In Rawls’ justice
theory, the idea of fairness applies beyond the individual to include the wider community.
Rawls (1999) adopted a hypothetical social contract, with each individual’s original
position unknown before agreeing to the terms of the social contract (Byars & Stanberry, 2018).
Rawls termed this state the “veil of ignorance” because no one would know their own position
until lifting the veil, whether male or female, rich or poor, tall or short, or intelligent or
unintelligent. Rawls intended the justice theory to provide a minimum guarantee of rights and
liberties for all, as ignorance of position and circumstance should motivate people in the
community to choose fairly.
Rawls (1999) stipulated that society is most just when the arrangement of institutions and
laws is such that everyone has the majority of their needs met. All individuals in such a society
should have a guaranteed minimum means to pursue their interests and maintain their dignity as
free and equal people. Rawls also advanced that each person is equally entitled to the system of
fundamental rights and liberties for all, thus providing equality of educational and employment
opportunities, enabling all to compete for powers and positions fairly. Society is well-ordered
when each member receives fair treatment and belongs to a system of cooperation between free
and equal citizens, with the institutions arranged to achieve the greatest net balance of
satisfaction summed over all the individuals belonging to it (Rawls, 2001).
Among these fundamental rights are wages (Rawls, 1999), with all people entitled to fair
compensation for the work they do. In the most basic economic terms, the bases for wages are
contribution, supply, and demand; hence, the extent of individuals’ contribution and the variance
of supply and demand will determine their salaries. However, Rawls’ theory allows higher
salaries for individuals who work harder or longer or have a particular skill set, provided there is
a real difference to the value such a person brings. The unequal distribution of rewards or
compensation can be to (a) attract individuals to places where they are most needed, such as an
NES teacher to an international school in a non-English-speaking country, (b) cover the
additional costs of training and education they may have incurred, and (c) ensure that their higher
costs from home country are met, such as taxes. From a Rawlsian perspective, when the only
basis for expatriate salary differentials is nationality, they are unjust.
Significance of the Study
Expatriate compensation, HCN compensation, expatriate adjustment, and interactions
between HCNs and expatriates in multinational companies and enterprises are well documented
(Brown & Lauder, 2012; Chao et al., 2002; Leung, Wang, & Hon, 2011; Mahajan, 2009, 2011;
Mahajan & De Silva, 2012; Mahajan & Toh, 2014; Phillips & Fox, 2003; Rodin, 1997; Sims &
Schraeder, 2005; Trevor-Smith, 1997; Toh & DeNisi, 2003, 2005, 2007). In addition, multiple
scholars have explored local-hire employees’ experiences working in split labor markets in
MNCs and enterprises (Bonache et al., 2009; Mahajan, 2011; Templar, 2010; Toh & DeNisi,
2007). However, the findings of these studies may not apply to international schools. Thus, this
qualitative phenomenological study added to the research on international schools’ practices
from the HCN teachers’ perspective about compensation fairness between themselves and
expatriates. As there is very little research on split salaries in international schools (Canterford,
2009; Tyvand, 2017), this study fills a gap in the literature, presenting the voices of HCN
teachers who have experience working in international schools with split salaries.
The proportion of schools with mixtures of qualified HCN and expatriate staff increases
with the global rise in international schools (Hayden, 2006; Hayden & Thompson, 2008;
International School Services, 2018; ISC Research, 2021b). HCNs comprise 80% of the staff in
many international schools (Bunnell, 2019; Hughes, 2020; ISC Research 2019). As the number
of international schools and demands for HCN teachers increase, the problems of HCNs working
in a split-salary environment may become more widespread, particularly with split salaries seen
as a tool for budget-cutting or cost control. This research provided school boards and
administrators with insight to better understand the impact of split salaries on their HCN teachers
and consider reducing the disparity.
Definition of Terms
Compensation: The total benefits a teacher can expect from a position, including salary
and the aggregate of any rewards gained from the position. Compensation may include salary,
bonuses, career advancement, relative job enjoyment, and personal satisfaction (Guarino et al.,
Compensation gap: The difference in compensation between expatriates and local
employees due to globalized operations where expatriates working in a foreign country receive
pay at the home country rate (Hon & Lu, 2015).
COVID-19: An infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus (World
Health Organization, 2021).
English-medium international school: A school using English, either wholly or partially,
as the primary language of communication (ISC Research, n.d.).
Ethnocentric pay policies: Pay policies based upon ethnicity (Mahajan, 2011).
Expatriate: Employees who have transferred or self-initiated a move from one country to
another for a specific period (Chen et al., 2002).
Expatriate adjustment: “The person’s ability to function effectively, personally and
vocationally, in the new environment(Brandon et al., 2016, p. 23).
Expatriate pay differential: Salaries found in companies where expatriate employees earn
more than HCNs (Bonache et al., 2009).
Expatriate teacher: Teachers who work in a country other than their own (Aydın et al.,
Global South: “A short form to refer to economically struggling countries, often former
colonies of European powers, where large numbers of the population are surviving with below-
poverty wages(Tarc & Mishra Tarc, 2015, p. 50).
Host-country national: A person whose nationality is the same as the country in which
the organization operates (Oxford Reference, 2021).
International school: A school that serves the children of globally mobile parents,
espouses a specifically international mission or objective, or serves an aspirational middle- or
high-class local host-country population (Bunnell et al., 2016).
Local-hire expatriates: Expatriates hired locally because they are the trailing spouse of a
partner who works for an embassy, aid agency, multinational company, or HCN (Garton, 2000).
Localization: “The process of transferring an employee who used to be under expatriate
terms and conditions to local conditions(McNulty, 2016 p. 131).
Native English speakers: Individuals who have spoken English since they were babies
rather than having learned it later in life (Cambridge English Dictionary, 2021).
Non-native English speakers: Someone who learned English as a child or adult instead of
from babyhood (Cambridge English Dictionary, 2021).
Othering: The construction of identity of the self as part of the in-group and the other as
out-group, setting up a superior self/in-group in contrast to an inferior other/out-group (Brons,
Segmented labor market: The division of the labour market into separate submarkets or
segments, distinguished by different characteristics and behavioural rules, including the types of
workers (such as migrant and nonmigrant workers; Labour Market Segmentation, n.d.).
Split labor market: A market “in which there is a significant differential in the price of
labor for the same occupation resulting from differences in resources and motives, which often
correlates with ethnicity(Bonacich, 1972, p. 547).
Structural racism: Institutional and macrolevel conditions and policies that limit the
opportunities, resources, power, and well-being of individuals and populations based on race or
ethnicity (“Structural Racism and Discrimination,” 2021).
Third culture kid: A child who has spent a significant part of their developmental years
outside of their parents’ passport culture (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009).
Third-country national (TCN): Employees hired to work in an international company or
organization whose home of citizenship is another country (Briscoe et al., 2009).
Two-tier: Comprising two levels of structure (Cambridge English Dictionary, 2021).
Two-tier wage system: A wage system in which one group of employees receives less pay
than another (Martin & Peterson, 1987).
Wage differentials: The difference in wages in different employments, occupations,
industries, and localities or between persons in the same employment or grade (Francis, 2014).
West: The Atlantic littoral of Europe (the British Isles, Scandinavia, the Low Countries,
France, and Iberia), America, Australia, New Zealand, and all other European overseas
settlements (McNeil, 1997).
Chapter II. Review of the Literature
“But we just suck it up because what else can we do, you know?”
Felicia, Study Participant, 2021
Chapter II includes a review of related research, including international schools’ context
and history, the growing marketization of international schools, the expanding influence of the
business model, and international education as an industry. Next, there will be discussions of
expatriate compensation in MNCs, the role of HCNs, the corresponding use of split salaries, and
the emergence of MNC compensation models. This review will present the demographics of
teachers who work in international schools, international schools’ compensation and recruitment
practices, and how, as globally competitive businesses, many international schools use split
salaries. Finally, there will be an exploration of Rawls’ theory of justice theoretical framework
and how it applies to the compensation practices in international schools.
Overview of Related Research
In the past 20 years, there have been few studies explicitly based on the phenomenon of
split salaries for international school teachers (Tyvand, 2017). In a seminal qualitative study,
Canterford (2009) expanded on a 2003 article about split salaries in international schools.
Tyvand (2017) completed a quantitative study examining perceptions of fairness and
investigating the links between HCN organizational commitment and perceived compensation
fairness. More recently, Bunnell and Atkinson (2020) called for further inquiry into entrenched,
systematic discrimination in numerous areas, including recruitment and remuneration.
Bonacich (1972) introduced the term “split labor market” to describe how some workers
receive different pay than others based on nationality or ethnicity. A number of researchers have
explored expatriate compensation in MNCs (Harvey, 1993; McNulty & Tharenou, 2004;
McNulty, 2016; McNulty et al., 2017; McNulty & Tharenou, 2004; McNulty, 2016; Nazir et al.,
2014; Okeja, 2017; Papilaya et al., 2019; Parker & Janush, 2001; Phillips & Fox, 2003). Several
scholars have explored the expatriate–HCN compensation disparity (Bonacich, 1972; Leung,
Wang, & Hon, 2011, 2014; Mahajan, 2011; Martin & Peterson, 1987). Expatriate and HCN
interactions have been the focus of several studies in MNCs (Bader, 2017; Jannesari et al., 2017;
Kang et al., 2017; Mahajan & Toh, 2014; Sokro, 2019; & Mishra Tarc, 2015; Toh & DeNisi
(2005); van Bakel, 2019). Also well-explored in the literature are expatriate adjustment and
success in MNCs (Jannesari et al., 2017; Mahajan, 2009; Mahajan & De Silva, 2012; Mahajan &
Toh, 2014; Sokro, 2019; Toh & DeNisi (2005); Wang et al., 2018). The concepts and ideas of
expatriates in MNCs and compensation can provide an understanding of international schools
(see Table 1.1).
Table 1.1
A Review of Research Relating to International Schools, Expatriate Compensation,
and Host-Country Nationals
Split salaries for teachers
in international schools
Canterford (2003, 2009); Tyvand (2017)
compensation disparity
Bonacich (1972); Leung, Wang, & Hon (2011); Leung, Lin, & Li
(2014); Mahajan & Toh (2014); Martin & Peterson (1987)
Expatriate teachers
Blyth (2017); Poole (2019); Winchip (2017, 2021)
Table 1.1 Continued
International schools
Bunnell (2014, 2016); Bunnell et al. (2016); Bunnell & Fertig
(2016); Hayden (2006); Hayden & Thompson (1988, 1995, 2008,
2013); Hughes (2020); Khalil (2019)
Equity in international
Bunnell & Atkinson (2020); Hughes (2021b); Johnston (1999);
Lauder (1996); Tarc (2012); Tarc & Mishra Tarc (2015)
Expatriate HCN
Bader (2017); Jannesari et al. (2017); Kang et al. (2017); Mahajan
& Toh (2014); Sokro (2019); Tarc & Mishra Tarc (2015); Toh$&$
DeNisi$(2005);$van Bakel (2018)
Expat adjustment/success
Jannesari et al. (2017); Mahajan (2009); Mahajan & De Silva
(2014); Mahajan & Toh (2014); Sokro (2019); Toh$&$DeNisi$
(2005);$Wang et al. (2018)
Expatriate compensation
Harvey (1993); Parker & Janush (2001); McNulty & Tharenou
(2004); McNulty (2016); McNulty et al. (2017); McNulty &
Tharenou (2004); McNulty (2016); Nazir et al. (2014); Okeja
(2017); Papilaya et al. (2019); Parker et al. (2013); Suutari &
Tornikoski (2001)
Context of International Schools
“International school” is a problematic construct. There is no one definition, nor is there a
single association or authority regulating international schools globally (Hayden, 2006; Hughes,
2020). Additionally, there are many competing accreditation agencies and international school
organizations with which international schools may align. The title “international” or country-
specific synonyms, such as “American,” “British,” or “Australian,” are open for any school to
adopt, as there is no restriction on their use (Bunnell, 2014). International schools include
British- or American-branded, English-medium international, bilingual, and private schools
(International School Services, 2018).
The traditional model of an international school was an embassy or community school
serving the children of Western parents who were either professional expatriates or embassy
staff. These schools would deliver a predominantly U.S. or U.K. curriculum and teach entirely in
English (Fraser, 2020). The number of these schools grew as Western expatriates increasingly
moved globally. With the expansion of the international school market, local families began to
realize that international schools provided an educational choice (ISC Research 2021c).
Initially, international schools served the children of globally transient expatriates and
diplomats (Hayden & Thompson, 2008). Over time, these schools became attractive to affluent
and middle-class parents looking for an education different from that offered by their state
system (Hayden & Thompson, 2008; Hughes, 2021b). ISC Research (n.d.) provided the broadest
definition of an international school as a school that delivers an English-medium curriculum
other than the available national curriculum and is international in orientation. However, as ISC
Research is a service company to international schools’ research, proposing a broader definition
of international schools contributes to a more extensive and robust database of affiliated schools
(Bunnell & Fertig, 2016).
Hill (2007), the former Deputy Director-General of the International Baccalaureate
Organization, described international schools as independent institutions charging tuition and
fees, offering scholarships, and attracting students of many nationalities. Some of the students
are mobile. In addition, the school usually offers a curriculum different from that of the host
country and uses English as the primary language of instruction. Bunnell (2014) provided a
deliberately vague definition and avoided explicitly mentioning “actors, benefits or outcomes as
these will differ from area to area(p. 2). Thus, there is a variety of schools identifying as
Table 1.2
Definitions of International Schools Showing Various Academics to
Describe International Schools
Different curriculum
Location outside of English-
speaking counties.
Uses English as the medium of
Table 1.2 Continued
Hill (2007)
Independent institutions charging
tuition fees or offering scholarships
and attracting students of many
nationalities, some transient, with a
curriculum usually different from
that of the host-country and English
as the primary language of
Various nationalities of students
Private institutions
Tuition fees (or scholarships)
Different curriculum
Uses English as the medium of
Hayden &
Thompson (2008)
Institutions that are serving globally
mobile expatriates and children of
diplomats, elite, and middle-class
HCN children whose parents are
looking for an education different to
that offered by their state.
Expatriate students
Diplomat students
HCN students
Different curriculum
ISC Research
A school that delivers an English-
medium curriculum other than the
country’s national curriculum and is
international in its orientation.
English-medium curriculum
International outlook
Schools may choose to identify as international based on various motivations or factors
(Hayden, 2008). Distinguishing characteristics can include student and staff population
demographics, curricula, and mission and vision. International schools also fall into the
categories of business, regulatory, or for marketing purposes. International schools fall on a
spectrum between nonprofit ideological institutions with aspirations of global peace and
internationally minded values, such as the United World College group of schools, to private
educational institutions that need to maintain a fiscally healthy profit margin (Bunnell et al.,
2016; Hayden, 2008). with few exceptions, international schools generally charge tuition and
fees because host-country governments do not subsidize them (Hayden, 2008).
Hayden and Thompson (2013) suggested three categories of schools. Type A represents
the traditional schools catering to globally mobile expats. Type B schools are ideologically
driven and offer an international curriculum. The newest category is Type C, which caters to
affluent and middle-class aspirational HCNs. Type C schools are usually proprietary and
expected to generate a profit for their owners (Bunnell et al., 2016). Type C schools have
experienced the most significant growth in response to aspirational middle-class parents’
demands (Hayden & Thompson, 2013; Steiner-Khamsi & Dugonjić-Rodwin, 2018) and thus are
the most common type (Bunnell et al., 2016).
Understanding international schools’ exponential growth requires considering the
motivations of the parents, primarily growing middle-class from countries in the Global South
who want a Western-centric education as a means of increasing their intellectual, cultural, and
social capital (Brummitt & Keeling, 2013; Khalil, 2019). These parents seek a competitive
advantage for their children in gaining admission to Western universities and earning globally
recognized qualifications, usually from U.S.- or U.K.-based institutions of higher education
(COBIS, 2020a; Dearden, 2014; Gardner-McTaggart, 2020; Lehman, 2020; Steiner-Khamsi &
Dugonjić-Rodwin, 2018).
A History of Inequality
Education had an elitist start. Ancient Greeks and Romans used a system of private tutors
with small groups of fee-paying students; formal schooling in the European Middle Ages
emerged in England for tuition or linked to religious orders (Hughes, 2021b). In the 19th century,
mass education and access for all began to spread worldwide. The oldest international school in
operation is unknown. Hayden (2006) identified Yokohama International School and the
International School of Geneva as established within days of each other in 1924; however,
Hughes (2021b) claimed that the League School, created from a collaboration with the newly
formed League of Nations and International Labour Office (later renamed the International
School of Geneva), was the first. These international schools and those that followed were for a
relatively small number of fee-paying children of expatriate residents in those cities (Hayden,
2006; Hughes, 2021b).
Historically, international schools catered to a small population of nonlocal students and
had ideological visions and missions, largely escaping notice or scrutiny from their host
countries (Bunnell, 2021). However, over the past century and especially since the 1990s,
international schools evolved from educating expatriate children only to a “model that provides
an elitist education to local children whose parents see greater value in sending their children to
an international school than a local school(Hughes, 2021b, p. 129). Bunnell (2021) referred to
this as evidence of a new class formation, the global middle class, finding,
Neo-colonial exploitation occurring, as investors and commercial agencies (in the Global
North) take advantage of the emerging thirst for a seemingly quality-assured model of
private schooling that can meet both parental demand and facilitate economic growth (in
the Global South). (p. 4).
The schools identifying as international are not a homogenous group (Bunnell, 2021).
However, many of them, primarily traditional international institutions, represent an elite group
of schools catering to an emerging global middle class (Bunnell, 2019; Bunnell et al., 2020;
Hughes, 2021b). Specific to international schools, the concept of elite international schools is
vague and difficult to quantify. Bunnell (2021) suggested a focus on the elite school experience,
which “is more nuanced, and it delivers class identity and solidarity, which in turn lead to
exclusive career pathways and options alongside access to exclusive (and socially useful)
networks and associations(p. 252). Most international schools cater to elite, fee-paying parents,
representing a socioeconomic division (Hughes, 2021b). This paradox between the schools’
stated missions and visions and their actions could contribute to the enduring split salaries
beyond just economics.
International schools are symbols of the Western world and values, offering, for a price, a
competitive edge to entry into higher education in the United States or the United Kingdom; as a
result, they seem to perpetuate colonialist history (Khalil, 2019). International schools—in
particular, premium or Tier 1 institutions—offer a pathway to elite universities with Top 50
ratings, such as the U.S. Ivy League or U.K. Oxbridge (Bunnell et al., 2020; Hughes, 2021b;
Machin, 2017). By restricting admissions, these institutions maintain the principle of scarcity and
thus their perceived value and exclusivity (Hughes, 2021b).
The International School Industry
The international school market changed significantly in the first 2 decades of the 21st
century (Fraser, 2020; Hayden, 2008; ISC Research, 2021b). Hill (2007) posited that although
most international schools might be ideology-driven in their vision and mission, they are also
market-driven because they must meet a bottom line of revenue to operate and produce a profit.
Thus, despite presenting visions to develop world peace and intercultural competency, many
international schools are for-profit, with everything a profit-making institution entails (Hughes,
2020). Specifically, profit-making institutions must adhere to budgets by controlling and cutting
costs, including salaries. This drive to maximize revenue can sometimes compete with the
schools’ aspirational visions. Moreover, the rapid growth and competition in the international
school market mean that schools are becoming more businesslike, focusing on key performance
indicators such as accountability, competitiveness, and efficiency (Winchip, 2017).
The growth of international schools and supporting fields has produced an industry
(MacDonald, 2006). Scholars have estimated the market value of the international school
industry to be US$49 billion in tuition revenue alone (Fraser, 2020; Gardner-McTaggart, 2020;
ICEF Monitor, 2020), catering to an enrollment of five to seven million students, 80% of them
HCNs (Bunnell, 2021; Gardner-McTaggart, 2020; ICEF Monitor, 2020; ISC Research, 2021b).
International schools are no longer part of a niche group, an area of education dominated
by a peripheral bloc of schools catering exclusively to a small group of expatriates (Bunnell et
al., 2020; Glass, 2018). Instead, the international school market has become a big business
recognized by a broad range of investors, suppliers, and providers (Glass, 2018; Machin, 2017),
with exceptionally high demand in Asia and the Middle East (ICEF, 2018; ISC Research, 2019).
This new form of international school stemmed from increased demand and the potential for
capital gains (Hayden & Thompson, 2013; ISC Research, 2021c). These Type C international
schools, typically commercially run on a for-profit basis, enroll increasing numbers of HCN
students from wealthy backgrounds looking for a competitive edge in university admissions
(Bunnell & Fertig, 2016). Some of these international schools are organized and managed as
chains of for-profit international schools (Hughes, 2020; ISC Research, 2021c), subsidiaries of
branded U.K. and U.S. private schools extending to new markets in other countries (Khalil,
2019). Often, international schools are no longer independent or autonomous but part of bigger
chains with the sophisticated factors of private equity funding, powerful commercial brands, and
anonymous foreign investors (Bunnell, 2021).
Due to their competitive nature and focus on the bottom line, many international schools
use a business model with wage disparities based on teachers’ national origin (Tyvand, 2017;
Winchip, 2017). As a result, employers hire favored workers at higher salaries in a stiffly
competitive environment, reducing overall profits, or employ lower-paid workers with increasing
profits (Canterford, 2009). With proliferating schools and high competition, the number of HCNs
working alongside expatriate staff will similarly increase along with the proportion of schools
using split-salary scales (Winchip, 2017).
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the industry, with families facing financial
constraints and seeking lower-cost alternatives (Nyomi, 2020). The demand for international
education remains strong as parents desire a competitive advantage and English language
competence (Nyomi, 2020; ISC Research, 2021c; Machin, 2017). Midmarket, or Type B,
international schools benefit the most, with premium schools losing enrollment as families look
for a price point they can afford (ISC Research, 2021c). Fewer students mean that more-
expensive midmarket and premium international schools might need to adapt their business
models to survive (Nyomi, 2020; Winchip, 2017). As schools face competition, reducing costs
by increasing the percentage of HCN staff versus overseas-hired expatriates could be an option,
given that many of these schools use a split-salary model (Khalil, 2019; Nyomi, 2020).
Expatriate Compensation in Multinational Companies
Expatriate compensation in MNCs is challenging (Nazir et al., 2012). Globally, MNCs
commonly provide different salary packages, terms and conditions, and other opportunities for
expatriates (Chen et al., 2002; Oltra et al., 2013; Toh & DeNisi, 2003). Expatriate compensation
makes up for relocation costs, different tax environments, cost of living differentials, and prior
investment, such as the employee’s degrees and qualifications (Bonache et al., 2009; Oltra et al.,
2013). To attract expatriates to leave their home countries, MNCs offer compensation packages
commensurate to the home country’s salary structure. Local employees receive salaries
according to the local labor market, producing a significant compensation gap between the two
groups (Bonache et al., 2009; Lueng et al., 2011, 2014; Min et al., 2005).
Expatriates often receive compensation packages two to five times higher than their
parent-country counterparts (Chen et al., 2002; Schuler et al., 2002) and up to 20 times more than
their comparable HCN colleagues, especially in countries from the Global South (Bonache et al.,
2009; Chen et al., 2002). Such disparities are unavoidable due to a business model that requires
controlling wage costs by paying near-market rates for HCN workers and expatriates (Chao et
al., 2002; Leung, Wang, & Hon, 2011). Chao et al. (2002) and Leung, Wang, and Hon (2011)
maintained that although it would be unrealistic to eliminate local–expatriate disparity,
nonfinancial incentives could reduce or mitigate the magnitude of the difference. One such
mitigation is the localization of salaries over a set period, slowly moving an expatriate from a
globalized salary upon arrival to a localized salary after being in the country for several years,
when they no longer require assistance adjusting to a new country (Mahajan, 2011).
MNCs can take various approaches to calculate expatriate compensation, including
ad hoc negotiation, lump-sum payment, balance-sheet approach, regional and global systems,
cafeteria approach, and localization (McNulty, 2016; Sims & Schraeder, 2005). The balance-
sheet approach is a home-based strategy in line with the concept that the relocated expatriate is
entitled to the same standard of living as in their home country, with a “no gain, no loss” concept
(Festing & Perkins, 2008; Sims & Schraeder, 2005). A balance-sheet approach includes four
components: (a) tax equalization, (b) housing allowance equivalent to that represented by an
expatriate’s home-country housing norm; (c) goods and services in relation to an expatriate’s
“purchasing power” in the host location for groceries, transportation, and medical care, and (c)
reserve elements, including pension contributions (McNulty, 2016).
A cafeteria approach is a mixed strategy in which an MNC selects from certain elements,
such as accepting a host-based salary while adding home-based allowances to compensate for the
differences between the countries (McNulty, 2016). MNCs with few expatriates often lack a
formal expatriate policy, negotiating each placement with components such as ad hoc
negotiations or lump-sum payments (Festing & Perkins, 2008; Suutari & Tornikoski, 2001).
Localization is a host-based strategy used when an MNC limits an expatriate’s additional
salary and allowances in favor of “he or she becoming a local (for the purposes of payroll) in the
host-country” (McNulty, 2016, p. 131). Although localization strategies save money and reduce
disparities between expatriates and locals, they can result in higher turnover of the less-
committed expatriate staff.
Regional and global systems are compensation approaches where all expatriates receive
equal pay, regardless of origin (McNulty, 2016; Sims & Schraeder, 2005). These are
performance-based approaches not tied to expatriate status. Figure 1.1 shows the strategies used
by MNCs in determining expatriate compensation and the cost ramifications.
Figure 1.1
Approaches to Expatriate Compensation by Multinational Companies
Home country-based
The approaches used to determine expatriate compensation by MNCs fall into home-based
approaches, host-country-based approaches, or performance approaches, with localization the
most economical strategy.
The Role of Host-Country Nationals
Among expatriates moving to another country, establishing a sense of well-being early on
is essential to function effectively in their new environment. Expatriate adjustment is the period
of transition to the new environment (Brandon et al., 2016). International human resources
managers have identified expatriates’ adjustment to their new situations as an area of concern
(Fee et al., 2013; Ren et al., 2014; Zhang & Dodgson, 2007). Although socializing and helping
the expatriates acclimate to their new country is not typically part of the HCN job description
(Toh et al., 2012), HCN staff are instrumental in facilitating expatriates’ adjustment in a new
location (Mahajan, 2011; Mahajan & De Silva, 2014; Toh & DeNisi, 2005). HCN staff can assist
with adjusting to life in a new country, discovering the community’s cultural norms,
communicating the written and unwritten rules in and outside the workplace, finding
accommodations, navigating utility bills, shopping, transportation, and other essentials (Toh &
DeNisi, 2005).
Expatriates’ success intertwines with the success and well-being of the HCN staff; thus,
there must be carefully developed relationships to gain the optimal return on investment from
expatriates’ performance (Chen et al., 2002; Jannesari et al., 2017; Toh & DeNisi, 2005). This
link between expatriate success and HCN support is true in MNCs and schools. For example,
HCN staff help new expatriate teachers adjust to their new countries and the various day-to-day
needs. HCN teachers also assist expatriate instructors in adjusting to new school expectations,
policies, and procedures (Tyvand, 2017).
Split Labor Markets
Bonacich (1972) introduced the term “split labor market” to describe a market in which
one ethnic group receives pay substantially different from another. Bonacich presented split
labor market examples of cheap labor from India, China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands to
Australian sugar cane fields in the 1960s and Japanese, Indian, and Mexican laborers migrating
to the United States. Generally, a split labor market forms due to business competition to drive
down wages.
Split-salary scales occur in multinational companies worldwide due to the need to attract
highly qualified expatriates in overseas or remote locations (Leung, Wang, & Hon, 2011; Phillips
& Fox, 2003; Rodin, 1997; Sims & Schraeder, 2005; Trevor-Smith, 1997; Toh & DeNisi, 2003).
Exacerbating this situation is that expatriate staff are generally harder to recruit due to a smaller
labor pool than HCN staff (Leung, Wang, & Hon, 2011; McNulty, 2016; Sims & Schraeder,
2005; Toh & DeNisi, 2003). In simple terms of supply and demand, there are more HCN staff
available locally than suitable expatriates willing and able to move abroad (Mahajan & De Silva,
2012). MNCs’ traditional structures included expatriates as managers and HCNs as workers;
thus, the economic disparities were less apparent. The changing nature of globalization and
economic development in countries such as India, China, Malaysia, and Singapore has lessened
the relative superiority of expatriates over HCNs (Mahajan, 2011; Toh & DeNisi, 2005). Having
more HCNs working alongside expatriates while completing the same work for less pay creates
feelings of inequitable treatment, leading to low commitment and poor work performance among
local staff (Mahajan, 2009; Sokro & Pillay, 2019; Tyvand, 2017).
Split-labor markets arise amid internal and external markets for workers (Canterford,
2009). This separation of markets might be due to location, such as migrants traveling to
Australia in the 19th century or Japanese and Chinese workers traveling to California as the
external markets and the White unionized labor as internal (Bonacich, 1972). Guiding the
internal market in international schools are recruitment fairs and agencies, which screen
candidates prior to admission, require fees often prohibitive to outsiders, and demand a minimum
level of English proficiency to participate. The external market comprises local teachers who
may not have access to vacancies via recruitment agencies and fairs (Canterford, 2009).
Globally, most international school recruitment fairs are in English-speaking countries, further
limiting the access for local staff (Bunnell & Atkinson, 2020).
Teachers in International Schools
Many international schools have an organizational structure consisting of an
administration, some relatively well-paid expatriate educators, and local staff compensated at
much lower rates (Hayden, 2006). Garton (2000) suggested similar categories of teaching staff in
international schools: HCNs, local-hire expatriates, and overseas-hire expatriates. Local-hire
expatriates will often include trailing spouses, whose spouses or partners work for MNCs or
nongovernmental organizations or embassy staff, or are married to an HCN (Garton, 2000).
As English is the language of instruction in most international schools, parents expect
these teachers to have native or near-native English proficiency (Brandon et al., 2016;
Canterford, 2003; Tarc & Mishra Tarc, 2015). To meet this expectation, international schools
source their expatriate teachers from predominantly Western nations, often the United States,
United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (Bunnell & Atkinson, 2020; Garton,
2002). School leaders expect that by hiring expatriate teachers, they will “extend and enhance
English instruction due to their English speaking ability(Chen, 2012, p. 44). Hiring more HCN
or TCN teachers can mitigate the cost and time investment of international teachers, as they are
often low-cost substitutes (Bunnell & Atkinson, 2020; Reynolds, 1997). Additionally,
international schools, particularly in the Global South, recruit international teachers for their
assumed Western values and current pedagogical knowledge (Hughes, 2020).
The traditional international school model has evolved into a broader array of schools,
including a growing number of bilingual institutions. International schools serve a wide range of
student demographics, expatriates from more countries, and the considerably increasing number
of local children attending international schools (Fraser, 2020; ISC Research, 2021b). These
schools are recruiting more local students to match their growth, increasingly aware of the need
to balance the numbers of HCN and expatriate teachers to maintain credibility and
competitiveness (Fraser, 2020; Garton, 2000; ISC Research 2021b). Schools hire HCN teachers
for various reasons, including legal and ideological. International school leaders have realized
that HCN teachers bring a knowledge and understanding of local culture, language, and context
vital to the school community (ISC Research, 2021b). Additionally, hiring more HCN teachers
can address staffing and recruitment challenges (Fraser, 2020).
Schools are increasingly hiring HCN educators amid expatriate recruitment challenges
amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic (Fraser, 2020; Nyomi, 2020). In addition, local teachers
trained in international education can play a crucial role in guiding expatriate staff on local
societal influences to learning and hierarchy. In this way, HCNs contribute to expatriates’
understanding of host-country cultures and contexts, the host-country language, and community
cohesion (ISC Research, 2021c).
Teachers as a Commodity
The growing presence of English as the dominant international language has led globally
mobile families to value an English-medium education for their children (Hayden & Thompson,
2008). “Britishness” is a valuable commodity sought by parents and teachers in recognition of
the dominance of the English language and so-called British values (Bunnell & Poole, 2021;
Gardner-McTaggart; 2018; Khalil, 2019). Schools that promote their Britishness as a commodity
prefer a specific type of teacher—NES and Western-trained—to ensure the credibility of their
marketing (Bunnell & Atkinson, 2020). Even schools with more diverse staff have
predominantly White, male, NES heads of school, with these individuals having the most
cultural capital and driving the school policies (Gardner-McTaggart, 2018).
As customers, parents may associate a desirable education with the teacher qualifications
and perceived cultural capital attributed to Anglo-Americans (Bunnell, 2021). In turn, parental
pressure could lead those employing teachers to segment the market in favor of individuals
perceived as having the most credentials and cultural capital (Canterford, 2009). With
marketization in education, teachers become just another commodity the school sells (Lauder,
1996). As revenue pressure and competition for admission increase, teaching and learning
become exercises driven by cost–effect to produce a product; as a result, teachers become
market-based objects (Yang, 2006).
Compensation Practices in International Schools
Premium international schools tend to attract the most sought-after teachers because they
can offer the best compensation packages (ISC Research, 2021a). In addition to salaries, perks
include gratuities, accommodations, moving or shipping allowance, regular flights home,
medical insurance, pension plans, and free or reduced tuition for dependents (Canterford, 2009;
Machin & Whitehead, 2020). Figure 1.2 presents the perks and allowances beyond salary
contributing to the total compensation package international schools offer their expatriate and
local teachers.
Figure 1.2
Expatriates and Host-Country National Teacher Compensation Determinants
In a questionnaire administered to international schools, Canterford (2009) found that
over 40% had a split-salary pay scale distinguishing between locally and internationally hired
teachers. The AISH (n.d.), a nonprofit organization that provides resources, professional
development opportunities, and focused advocacy for international school heads, presented more
data. One AISH protocol is encouraging members to conduct action research by surveying the
membership on school-related topics. AISH members have addressed the issue of expatriate and
Base salary
Local based
Home based
local salaries, which, in the words of one international school head, is “very complexand “an
age-old issue(Chmelik, 2011, p. 1). Walker (2006) found that 32% of international schools
surveyed utilized a split salary, with others providing additional benefits to expatriate teachers,
such as housing, transportation, and international insurance.
In Chmelik’s (2011) study, 14% of respondents said their schools used a different salary
scale for local and expatriate teachers. However, most responding schools (85%) did not offer
local staff the same benefits, such as housing, taxation, or home leave allowances. In a similar
survey 10 years later, Parr (2021) found that 31% of schools had different salary systems, and
84% had different benefit systems for local and overseas hires. Parr reported that “15% of
schools have the same salary for both groups; however, access to additional payments for
stipends, responsibility allowances, performance pay, pay increases etc. is differentiated by
overseas/local status(p. 1). Figure 1.3 shows the percentage of international school heads
reporting split salaries based on passports.
Schools that use different salary scales claim they are market-driven, noting that although
HCN teachers earn 20% to 90% less than overseas hires, they make more than teachers in other
local schools (Walker, 2006). Walker (2006) stated, “Most of these schools indicated that they
specifically base their local salaries on the pay in area schools plus a certain percentage to ensure
that their local hire teachers are well paid for that market(p. 1). The percentage of AISH school
heads reporting split-salary models has ranged from 14% to 32% in the 15 years from 2006 and
Figure 1.3
Academy of International School Heads Surveys of International Schools With
Expatriate/Local Split Salaries
Note. N/A means the question was either not asked or unclear.
Discussions of salary between school representatives and prospective employees are
usually uncomfortable. This is especially true for teachers, with education often viewed as a
higher calling instead of a mere job, making salary discussions feel mercenary (Bunnell &
Atkinson, 2020). Further amplifying the discomfort is that many expatriate teachers in
international schools are essentially beneficiaries of the system, complicit in the continued
Despite the discomfort, educators frequently address the topic of inequitable salaries. The
situation, or the norm, of expatriate staff receiving higher wages and greater benefits than HCNs
0% 0%
Uses a split salary Different benefits for local or
expat staff
Differentiated access to
additional payments
Respondants 2006 2011 2021
remains standard in many international schools worldwide (Bunnell & Atkinson, 2020; Hayden
& Thompson, 2013; Hughes, 2020; Machin & Whitehead, 2020). Bunnell and Atkinson (2020)
stated, “This situation, the nomos, is a powerful, structural condition that helps make positive
discrimination in favour of British and American teachers seem so fundamentally normal as to
remain, for the most part, unremarked(p. 251). Bunnell and Atkinson (2020) continue by
attributing the discrepancy to international schools’ markets as “a normative belief-system that
accepts this [split salary system] and makes it appear natural, legitimate, and legal” (p. 251). This
norm, or belief, that Anglo-American expatriates should receive greater compensation than local
staff requires more investigation (Hughes, 2020). Illuminating the norm and speaking about the
issue can contribute to understanding the issue and effecting change (Bunnell, 2020; Tyvand,
Many HCN teachers now have credentials commensurate with their expatriate peers,
against whom they compare their salary and benefits (Bonache et al., 2009; Toh & DeNisi,
2003). Using higher-paid expatriates for comparison can exacerbate feelings of injustice and
conflict among increasingly well-informed and highly qualified HCNs (Tarc & Mishra Tarc,
2015). Moreover, due to growing competition in the international school industry and the
schools’ business models relying on a split salary to control costs, it is difficult for international
schools to narrow the compensation gap significantly. Therefore, it is essential to identify
nonfinancial factors that may help mitigate the inequality (Chen et al., 2002; Leung, Lin, & Lu,
2014; Toh & DeNisi, 2003).
Lehman’s (2020) qualitative study of over 100 teacher assistants primarily based in
China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam indicated the challenges of inequitable benefits. Some
participants said the salary between “expat and local staffwas “extremely different”; several
expressed the desire to receive pay equal to foreign teachers; others wanted fair treatment,
incentives for motivation, salary based on ability and experience, and paid holidays. The wage
disparity between foreign staff and locally hired teachers appeared in comments such as, “It is
recommended to improve the welfare of Chinese employees and give us a sense of belonging”
(p. 52). There was also a call for the salary system to undergo review and be more transparent.
Lehman also received feedback on salary and employee benefits, showing how school leaders
could mitigate the feelings of injustice. For example, some teaching assistants “hoped the school
would allow the children of locally hired staff to attend the school(p. 51).
HCN teachers may be satisfied with working in international schools despite the
compensation disparity due to the perceived, relatively better work environment and conditions
than in equivalent schools in the national system (Canterford, 2009; Hayden, 2008). As full
citizens of the host country, HCN teachers have access to civil, cultural, social, economic, and
political rights that international teachers might not (Poole, 2019), including the legal rights for
long-term employment and permanent contracts unavailable to members of the precariat global
middle class (Bunnell, 2016). In many countries, HCN teachers receive protection from
dismissal without due process, whereas terminating their expatriate colleagues can occur without
notice or legal safeguards (Poole, 2019). Local staff have an inherent advantage as cultural and
linguistic insiders, providing future economic benefits unavailable to most expatriate staff.
In developing countries, HCNs usually receive higher salaries than they would in their
local state system (Hayden & Thompson, 1995). Moreover, HCNs will accept even significant
compensation disparities if, among other things, the expatriates show sensitivity to the disparities
(Chen et al., 2002). However, sensitivity requires the expatriates to have high levels of cultural
intelligence (Menon et al., 2017).
Further masking the phenomenon of split salaries based on nationalities is that
international schools without explicit salary differentiation often hire expatriates as teachers and
HCNs as teaching assistants (Lehman, 2020). Teaching assistants receive less pay than teachers.
Thus, restricting HCNs to a lower level of paid work represents a slightly more subtle version of
the same disparity (Canterford, 2009).
Wage disparities in international schools based on nationality are not a universally
understood topic. A senior associate at Search Associates illustrated this point, saying, “The idea
of different pay scales for different nationalities being imposed unilaterally by a school sounds
like some kind of appalling contract apartheid!(B. Turner, personal correspondence, February,
7th, 2021). However, the recruiter said, “I recall that some schools in the [United Arab Emirates]
used to do this in the past, but I doubt they still do.It appears the split-salary practice remains in
a significant number of international schools globally, some of which do not use it.
Recruitment in International Schools
Research on the identity and motivations of international school teachers is limited
(Bunnell, 2017). Typically, the traditional international school solicits candidates via recruitment
fairs held primarily in the United States on dates that coincide with school leaders’ professional
conferences (Bunnell & Atkinson, 2020; Canterford, 2009). Many international school leaders
plan their travel to the United States during the annual recruitment fairs, where school
administrators and international school teacher candidates meet and engage in interviews
(Garton, 2002; Machin & Whitehead, 2020). Global Recruitment Collaborative, Search
Associates, and ISS-Schrole are among the agencies organizing these fairs, although the
popularity of these fairs is declining in favour of online interviews (Machin & Whitehead, 2020).
These recruitment fairs are usually by invitation only (Search Associates, 2021), and recruitment
agencies list their screening processes as one of the great benefits of recruitment fairs for the
school recruiters (Canterford, 2009; Garton, 2002; Search Associates, 2021). Additionally, cost
and geographic location present hurdles for many teachers to attend (Bunnell & Atkinson, 2020;
Canterford, 2009). Schools not using the recruitment companies often advertise on social media
websites and job portals specifying the teaching jobs are for NES only, or listing a few
qualifying home countries for expatriate teachers (Perez-Amurao & Sunanta, 2020).
Theoretical Framework
Rawls (1999), an influential moral and political philosopher of the 20th century, proposed
a social justice framework, suggesting that justice is society’s basic structure and “how social
institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages
from social cooperation(Rawls, 1999, p. 6). Using Kant, Locke, and Rousseau as a foundation
(Wenar, 2021), Rawls (1999) presented social justice as a framework for structuring
governments and social institutions to safeguard individual liberties, social equality, and justice.
People have different expectations due to their political, economic, and social circumstances
based on their place of birth. It is up to individual societies to form social contracts to remove
these unjust inequalities (Rawls, 2001). Rawls described his principles of justice as a social
contract that includes the foundation of social cooperation and agreements, termed “justice as
fairness(Byars & Stanberry, 2018).
Rawls (1999) stated, “In a just society, the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as
settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or the calculus of
social interests(p. 3). Rawls’ theory was a response to the prevailing theory of the time,
utilitarianism, which presented the foundations of justice as based on what provides the greatest
good for the most people. According to Rawls, an individual’s rights should not be negotiated or
sacrificed for the majority’s greater good. Thus, the rights of everyone are inviolable and
Rawls (1999) proposed the concepts of “original position” and “veil of ignorance” as
tools to understanding the theory of social justice, suggesting that a hypothetical person shrouded
in a veil of ignorance must design a just society without knowing their status in that society. This
hypothetical state is one of equality and freedom, where impartial choice is possible for all.
Determining what is just is only possible in this impartial situation, where uncertainty is high and
people fear social disadvantage. From this perspective of ignorance, which Rawls called the
original position, the individuals forming this society will choose a justice system that adequately
provides for those at the bottom. Unaware of their social status, gender, race, or skills but
rational and motivated by self-interest, people will choose principles that avoid the natural
outcome of chance and social circumstance in favour of principles that benefit everyone, with no
one overly advantaged or disadvantaged. Individuals will act justly to benefit others because they
could end up in a disadvantaged position and want adequate provision. Rawls concluded, “Such
a social contract, formulated from the perspective of the original position, will guarantee a just
society without sacrificing the happiness or liberty of any one individual(p. 53).
The distribution of wealth and income do not need to be equal, although they must be to
everyone’s advantage. Likewise, positions of authority and responsibility should be accessible to
all (Rawls, 1999). Specific to the economics of compensation and salary, Rawls (1999) stated
that earnings do not need to be equal for all, and some differences are acceptable. Individuals
have differing qualifications, responsibilities, and expertise, justifying the receipt of different
rewards (Oltra et al, 2013), provided that all have the same initial, equal opportunity of success,
regardless of their starting place (Rawls, 1999).
Paying wages and salaries according to output leads to increased output. Over time, the
greater returns to the more advantaged individuals cover training and education costs, encourage
people to fill positions of responsibility, and act as incentives to improve output (Rawls, 2001).
However, Rawls (1999) noted that when “economic inequalities are arranged that they are (a)
reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and (b) attached to positions and offices open
to all” (p. 53), they can be acceptable in a theory of justice framework. Thus, the focus should be
on the criteria justifying additional rewards. Qualities that add value, including qualifications,
expertise, or responsibilities, are reasonable variables for rewarding individuals differently
(Baron & Kreps 1999).
Although MNCs and organizations can justify providing additional incentives to attract
the best talent from abroad, compensation differences between HCN and expatriates are
substantial and perceived as unfair (Mahajan, 2011; Toh & DeNisi, 2003). Rawls (1999)
identified market forces as one consideration for differing salaries. However, justifying an
alternate salary scale based on only nationality does not fit into Rawls’ framework of fairness, as
HCN teachers often have levels of education, experience, and training equivalent to the
expatriates (Canterford, 2009; Mahajan & Toh, 2014; Toh & DeNisi, 2003; Tyvand, 2017). The
moral worth of HCN teachers should not depend on supply and demand (Rawls, 1999).
The number of international schools is growing exponentially. Most of this growth is
evident in Hayden and Thompson’s (2013) Type C international schools serving a growing
middle class of HCN parents aspiring to a Western education. These schools must satisfy a fiscal
bottom line (MacDonald, 2006) and operate according to business market principles, including
competitive salaries based on market demand (Winchip, 2017). The growth of these schools has
led to the international school industry (MacDonald, 2006) and the commodification of teachers
(Khalil, 2019).
Anglo-American teachers are in demand in many Global South countries due to a
combination of parents’ desire for a competitive edge in university admissions (Khalil, 2019) and
the continuing influence of a White colonialist heritage (Machin & Whitehead, 2020). As a
result, many international schools provide lower salaries for local hires and higher wages for
expatriate hires (Hughes, 2020). The schools’ continued existence often depends on this business
model (Winchip, 2017)
Rawls’ (1999) theory of justice indicates that wages and salaries can vary according to
output and positions of responsibility but should not be based on a worker’s national origins.
Individuals should have equal opportunities for starting employment and growth within an
organization, with the criteria for deserving additional rewards being open to all. Applying
Rawls’ theory of justice could show that international schools using split salaries are not
operating fairly and thus not in keeping with their visions (Hughes, 2020).
Chapter III: Methodology
“Local parents want a White person. [The] ‘my kid is going to be better off than being
educated by a local’ mindset is still there.”
Raya, Study Participant, 2021
The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the phenomenon
of split salaries in international schools from the lived experiences and perspectives of HCN
teachers to better understand the effect on their experiences in those schools. A
phenomenological research approach was appropriate to produce a thick, rich description of the
phenomenon experienced by the participants. According to Merriam (2009), phenomenological
research allows an understanding of the essence of the experience through the participants’
experiences and, as Creswell (2013) stated, “makes the world visible(p. 43). This chapter
provides justification for the qualitative approach used to answer the research question, the data
collection and analysis processes, steps taken to ensure reliability and validity, ethical practice,
and secure data storage.
Rationale for Approach
A qualitative phenomenological approach was appropriate to illuminate and explore the
perspectives of HCNs in international schools. Qualitative researchers seek to understand the
meaning people have constructed and how they make sense of the experiences in their worlds.
Qualitative phenomenology is a design focused on the human experience and the importance of
making meaning from experiences (Langdridge, 2007). Phenomenological researchers attempt to
describe several individuals’ lived experiences with a shared phenomenon (Creswell, 2009).
A strength of phenomenological studies is that they usually involve studying a small
number of subjects through extensive and prolonged engagement, in-depth interviews, and
discussions to develop constructs, find patterns, and identify relationships of meaning (Creswell,
2013; Moustakas, 1994). This depth of analysis allows the researcher to draw forth the stories
and illuminate HCN teachers’ voices in a way that may not be possible through other research
designs. Rather than adopting a single site or source, the phenomenological researcher studies
individuals who have experienced a common phenomenon, exploring several individuals’
perspectives from different sites with a shared experience (Creswell, 2009). The
phenomenological approach indicated common patterns and themes to better inform leaders of
international schools about the implications of utilizing split-salary structures based on
Research Design
Phenomenological research typically occurs with a small group of individuals who have
experienced the same phenomenon to make meaning of their experiences (Moustakas, 1994). In
this study, the phenomenon was the split-salary scale applied based on nationality, with HCN
teachers paid substantially less. The research had a qualitative phenomenological approach with
the primary data collection method of semistructured, one-to-one interviews of approximately 1
hour each. Moser and Korstjens (2018) suggested conducting 10 or fewer interviews for most
phenomenological studies. Thus, 10 HCN teachers working in international schools that utilize a
split-salary scale participated in this study. To increase the study’s validity and triangulate the
data, the participants could submit artifacts that illustrated their perceptions of the split-salary
systems in the schools where they currently or recently worked.
Phenomenological researchers are interested in individuals’ lived experiences; thus, the
investigation has subjective and objective elements (Creswell, 2013; Moustakas, 1994). In this
phenomenological study, objectivity came from the hard data, such as job descriptions and
demographics within the international schools, including the proportion of expatriate and HCN
teachers, teacher qualifications, and teachers’ years of experience. The subjectivity came from
the perceptions of the HCN teachers, their views of the fairness and justice of salary scales, and
their observations about teacher compensation. This study focused on the HCN teachers’
perceptions and the meaning they made of the phenomenon.
Site and Sample Selection
A single site was not necessary to conduct a series of semistructured interviews with a
small group of experienced HCN international school teachers. Critical to phenomenological
studies was that the participants had all experienced the phenomenon explored and could
articulate their lived experiences (Van Manen, 2016). Qualitative researchers seek to recruit
individuals who can provide the richest information. As such, participants must be
knowledgeable of the phenomenon, articulate, reflective, and motivated to communicate at
length and in depth. Researchers look for participants who have a shared experience but vary in
characteristics and individual experiences (Moser & Korstjens, 2018). Participants’ availability,
willingness to participate in the study, and ability to communicate experiences and opinions in an
articulate, expressive, and reflective manner are essential (Palinkas et al., 2015).
I used criterion sampling to identify and select participants who had shared an experience
but varied in characteristics and individual experiences (Moser & Korstjens, 2018). Criterion
sampling is a form of phenomenological sampling in which the participants must meet a set of
predefined criteria, the most important being their experience with the phenomenon under study
and willingness to share their perceptions (Creswell, 2009). The required criteria for this study
were that participants (a) were HCN teachers, (b) worked in an international school or had done
so within the last 5 years, (c) were aware that they are or were receiving a salary substantially
lower than equivalently qualified expatriate teachers, (d) did not work in a school where I
worked, and (e) were not actively seeking employment in a new school. Criteria a, b, and c
aligned with the purpose of the study. Criteria c was also a means to protect participants by not
creating a situation of surprise or anxiety in revealing something of which they had been
unaware. Criteria d and e were to avoid potential conflicts of interest should individuals perceive
that joining the study could help them obtain employment at my international school.
I included the eligibility criteria with the call for participants, allowing individuals to self-
screen before contacting me. Upon contact, I confirmed that they met the eligibility criteria to
screen. The HCN teachers who responded to the invitation were balanced with respect to gender,
geographic location, and age. I designed the criteria according to Gostin’s (1991)
recommendation that researchers carefully consider equitable selection criteria, choosing
participants based on factors clearly relevant to the problems under study rather than just
One of the participant recruitment posts on an international teachers’ group on social
media resulted in 247 reactions and 67 comments. Additionally, 20 teachers contacted me, which
indicated a broad interest in this topic among international school teachers. Of the 20 teachers
who contacted me, one was a former colleague, four were locally hired expatriate teachers, two
were expatriate teachers expressing unhappiness about my study, and one was a school director
and owner who wanted to justify the use of split salaries. Thus, these respondents were ineligible
to participate according to study criteria. Two of the 12 HCN teachers did not complete the
consent form, and I interviewed the remaining 10.
Data Collection Procedures
To obtain access to prospective participants, I contacted representatives from one
international teacher recruitment company and one online international teacher group and asked
them to serve as gatekeepers for my call for participants. I selected the teacher recruitment
company because it keeps a database of previously placed teachers and is more likely to have
HCNs on its rolls than some of the larger international teacher recruitment agencies (B. Turner,
personal correspondence, February 7th, 2021). The agency described itself as more than a job
board or a recruitment agency; instead, it was a community of international educators connecting
with each other, exploring opportunities, and sharing experiences. The agency has a published
equity and diversity policy indicating a commitment to challenging all forms of discrimination.
I also worked with a career coaching company for international teachers. The company
has more than 35,000 members on its social media platforms used to provide career support to
teachers worldwide. The teacher career coaching company works tirelessly for equity in
international education, including having raised the issue of split salaries among their members
and the wider community. The company sought to eliminate all forms of discrimination in
recruitment, such as schools that insist on native speakers only.
I began by contacting each organization’s gatekeepers to explain the area of interest,
share the purpose of the study, and request access to members of their organizations (see
Appendix A). I asked the gatekeepers to share the call for participants by sending an email (see
Appendix B) or posting a message on social media (see Appendix C), instructing the potential
participants to contact me directly. As individuals responded, I confirmed their eligibility, shared
the purpose of the study, explained the risks and benefits, discussed the expected time
requirements, and answered any questions.
The data collection process ends when data have reached the saturation point, where the
researcher understands the phenomenon and the data are repeating (Mason, 2002; Merriam,
2018). Thus, the sample size should be sufficient to understand the phenomenon rather than
represent a population (Mason, 2002). After speaking with eight individuals, I noticed that I was
receiving similar answers, suggesting I had achieved saturation; however, to be sure, I
interviewed two more participants. Interviewing 10 individuals from different locations and
schools was sufficient to obtain a thick, rich understanding of the human experience as reported
by the participants.
I set aside 2 months during the fall semester to find suitable interview times for the 10
participants. Scheduled interviews were at the participants’ convenience (Kvale & Brinkmann,
2015), although I anticipated the teachers would generally be available after classes, away from
the demands and business of the regular school day. Seven of the participants indicated that the
school closures and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had made it easier for them
to schedule time. After receiving the participants’ consent forms, I invited them to share a few
suitable times for their first interview. I followed the advice of Kvale and Brinkmann (2015),
who suggested that researchers should anticipate completing one interview per day, allowing
time to be fully attentive to the participant and process the interview with a sole focus on the
Interview Protocol
The interview questions and protocol appear in Appendix D. I conducted the interviews
online using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, according to each participant’s
preference. Each software platform allowed for easy recording, with subsequent download to a
personal laptop computer, password-protected and accessible only to me. I deleted the recordings
after transcription and member checking with each participant for accuracy.
Each participant received a pseudonym used during the transcription process and in
stored written notes and materials. During the interviews, I took handwritten notes of observed
impressions to add to the interview notes. I used the software platform to transcribe the
interviews, sharing the transcripts with each participant for member checking on the same day of
the interview. I assigned pseudonyms based on country of origin rather than using the generic
Participants A, B, and C, avoiding Western-based names to add greater authenticity to the study.
After I assigned pseudonyms, I confirmed with participants that their pseudonym was acceptable.
All data collected during the study were stored on a password-protected laptop computer
and backed up on my university-provided, password-protected Google account. Only I have
access to this laptop, which remained locked in a cupboard when not in use. I will store all
records for a minimum of 3 years as mandated by the Office for Human Research Protections.
Ethical Considerations
I completed training in social and behavioral research ethics (see Appendix E for the
certificate) to ensure I conducted an ethical study. Significant ethical considerations when
conducting qualitative research are confidentiality and informed consent (Orb et al., 2004).
These principles receive explanation in the following subsections.
Creswell and Poth (2018) stated that “issues for the study and plans for addressing ethical
issues relate to three principles: respect for persons, concern for welfare, and justice(p. 226). I
showed respect and concern for the participants by keeping them well informed of the purpose of
the study. I advised them that their participation was voluntary and they could withdraw at any
time without consequence. Additionally, as a long-time school administrator, I am experienced
in interviewing staff for vacant positions, promotions, or annual reviews. These experiences have
provided me with the skills and abilities to understand social cues and cross-cultural nuances and
make the participants feel welcome and at ease.
I respected participants’ confidentiality and regularly reviewed the concept, particularly
as this research related to a sensitive topic. There are several effective strategies to protect
personal information, including storing data securely, removing identifiers, altering biographical
details for confidentiality, and using pseudonyms for individuals, places, and organizations (Orb
et al., 2004). Once the participants agreed to join the research and completed the consent form, I
assigned them a pseudonym. Any identifying information they shared remained anonymous,
such as the schools or colleagues they mentioned. For cross-referencing, I kept a handwritten
master list of participants’ names and pseudonyms in a locked filing cabinet that only I could
access. I used only pseudonyms in all other electronic notes and writing. All interviews occurred
virtually and off-site from the international schools, so no one from the participants’ schools
would know of their inclusion in this study.
Informed Consent
I obtained informed consent from each participant prior to any interviews or questioning.
To participate in the study, individuals had to review and complete a letter of informed consent
(see Appendix F). The form presented the study’s scope and details and the participants’ right to
withdraw consent at any time without repercussions. During our initial exchanges, I informed
participants of the ethical requirement to obtain their express, written permission to participate in
the study. I also elaborated that the letter of informed consent was for their protection, that they
could retract their consent at any time, that only I would access the data, and that their identities
would not appear in the final work.
Concern for Welfare
Concern for welfare means that a researcher ensures adequate protection of participants
and no risk by participating. There were no minors in the study, as they are not teachers. I did not
specifically target vulnerable groups, but it is possible that some members of vulnerable groups
took part, such as pregnant, disabled, or elderly HCNs. The risk could be an emotional or
personal risk due to the nature of the topic, or it could be a professional risk should their words
or participation become known.
Salary discussions can be taboo, and in some schools, teachers are contractually
forbidden to discuss or disclose their salaries. Thus, I carefully designed questions to avoid
asking about precise salary amounts and instead focused on the effect of the salary gaps. The
participants received reminders not to breach any laws of their country or specifically name
schools or administrators during their interviews. Some participants inadvertently provided
identifying information, which I redacted and anonymized in the transcripts, notes, and data.
Special consideration of the participants’ welfare was necessary, given the potentially
sensitive nature of the study. A qualitative interviewer needs to listen carefully to what
participants say and how they say it; therefore, I was attentive to the words, pauses, sighs, and
nonverbal communication cues. If participants appeared uncomfortable with a line of
questioning, I reminded them they did not need to answer any question that caused discomfort
and offered to proceed to the next question (see Kvale & Brinkmann, 2015). However, on the
two occasions when this happened, the participants said they were okay and wanted to answer
the question. I also provided assurance that their responses were confidential and there was no
penalty if they skipped questions or chose to withdraw from the interview process.
Data Analysis
Data analysis started with transcribing the recorded interviews. The transcription
occurred using transcription software. After the software platform completed the initial
transcription, I listened to the recordings again to check for accuracy, make any necessary
corrections, and add notes and highlighting to indicate when the meanings of their responses
changed. Finally, to fully understand each participant’s experiences, I played the appropriate
audio when reading each interview multiple times. This step brought me back into the virtual
interview experience and reminded me about each participant’s mannerisms and body language.
Moustakas (1994) recommended horizontalization of data as the first step in
phenomenological reduction. To carry out this step, a researcher must be “receptive to every
statement of the participants’ experience, granting each comment equal value(p. 122). As I
reread the interview transcripts, I copied statements relevant to the investigated phenomenon and
individually recorded them on a spreadsheet as horizons.
The reduction then involved reading the individual horizons and determining if they
overlapped, were repetitive, or were similar in meaning with other horizons, which allowed for
grouping to reduce the number of horizons extracted. I followed Moustakas’s (1994)
recommendations, asking two questions when recording: “Does it contain a moment of the
experience that is a necessary and sufficient constituent for understanding it?” and “Is it possible
to abstract and label it?” (p. 121), which helped in determining the meaning units within the data.
The next step in the data analysis process was to write textual descriptions for each
participant, per Moustakas’s (1994) recommendation that participants’ words convey meaning
and unique perceptions of the phenomenon studied. These meaning units then underwent
collection and clustering into core themes for each participant. When clustering these units, I
looked for common themes across and between participants. I spent some time “pawing” (Ryan
& Bernard, 2003) through the printed texts, highlighting, marking, and rereading passages. In
this way, I gained a feel for the text by handling the data multiple times. I also used the cutting-
and-sorting technique as, after reading through the texts, I cut them into quotes and sections that
appeared important and sorted them into piles and themes. I listed the themes and subthemes and
repeated the process to clarify passages with which I was not happy. By living with the data, I
allowed the patterns to find me, a process Ryan and Bernard (2003) called “the interocular
percussion test.” The subthemes came to me when driving, showering, and sleeping.
Documents can be an important source of data in qualitative research (Tisdell &
Merriam, 2016). An advantage of documentary artifacts is that, unlike interviews, the
researcher’s presence does not affect the studied topic; thus, artifacts are objective and
unobtrusive forms of data. Documents can help uncover meaning, contributing to understanding
and developing the meaning of the phenomenon under study. Although I asked each participant
to share any documents they legally could, none did. This outcome reduced data triangulation;
however, the absence of documentation is also an interesting finding, as discussed in a later
Role of the Researcher
Langdridge (2007) reported that “epoché is a Greek word used by Husserl (1931) to mean
the process by which we attempt to abstain from our presuppositions, those preconceived ideas
we might have about the things we are investigating(p. 17). Researchers must remain conscious
of their personal experiences and biases during qualitative research to reduce and avoid such
prejudice. This conscious effort of acknowledging and then setting aside bias—known as epoché
or bracketing (Langdridge, 2007)—allows a focus on the participants (Creswell, 2007). The
researcher acknowledges and sets aside suppositions to experience the phenomenon anew, as if
experiencing it for the first time. Thus, this section presents my experiences in international
schools to illuminate and then bracket the prior incidents to avoid interfering with my analysis of
the participants’ experiences, voices, and meanings.
Over the past 25 years, I have worked in multiple international schools in four countries
in Europe and Southeast Asia as a teacher, principal, and school head. When I first moved
overseas, I was vaguely aware that expatriates received higher salaries than HCNs. As I shifted
into international school leadership, I became much more aware of the extent of the difference.
My spouse is an HCN who has also worked in international educational institutions as a
marketing and admissions director and has experienced receiving less pay than expatriates. I
reflected on these experiences using reflexive journaling, highlighting and bracketing my biases
before each interview to listen to the participants’ stories and experiences of split salaries in
international schools.
As the head of an international school, I am responsible for hiring decisions. Thus, I took
care not to include individuals actively seeking new positions to prevent misunderstandings that
participation would carry the prospect of future employment. If any candidate requested or
questioned the possibility of future employment, I would have advised them that it represented a
conflict of interest; however, none did. Another means of avoiding conflicts of interest was not
selecting participants who had worked at any school where I had affiliations. Although one of
these people did contact me, I did not consider them for the study to avoid personal connections,
prior contact, or experience with any participants or their schools.
Reflexive Journaling
Given my 2 decades of experience as a teacher and leader in international schools, it was
natural that I would bring my personal experiences, preconceptions, beliefs, and attitudes to this
research. As a phenomenological researcher adopting a Husserlian approach, I strove to expose
and hold in abeyance these elements (Wall et al., 2004). I practiced reflexive journaling before,
during, and after each interview to consciously acknowledge my values and experiences
(Roulston, 2020). Reflexive journaling allowed the phenomenon to transfer from the participants
to my consciousness in a clear and unaltered manner, precisely as the participants experienced it,
without the influence of my attitudes, experiences, and interpretations (Wall et al., 2004). Ahern
(1999) noted, “The ability to put aside personal feelings and preconceptions is more a function of
how reflexive one is rather than how objective one is because it is not possible for researchers to
set aside things about which they are not aware(p. 408).
Reflexive journaling allowed me to reflect on and illuminate my feelings and emotions
about the phenomenon so that when they arose during data collection or analysis, I could be
aware of and bracket those feelings aside. Ahern (1999) identified bracketing as an iterative,
reflexive journey entailing preparation, action, evaluation, and systematic feedback about the
effectiveness of the process. The advantage of this process was that I could productively devote
efforts “in trying to understand the effects of one’s experiences rather than engaging in futile
attempts to eliminate them(Porter, 1993, as cited in Ahern, 1999, p. 408).
I followed Wall et al.’s (2004) reflective framework in structuring the journal: (a)
prereflective preparation, (b) reflection, (c) new learning, and (d) action from learning.
Prereflective preparation entailed mentally preparing for each interview, setting aside my beliefs
and actions to focus on the participant, allowing a pure and clean transfer of the phenomenon
from each participant’s words and experiences. Prereflection included identifying some of the
interests that, as a researcher, I might take for granted in undertaking this study, clarifying my
value systems, and acknowledging areas in which I am subjective. Reflecting on the interview
and data analysis processes and determining when bracketing was or was not successful allowed
me to bracket more effectively as I worked through the research. Documenting the new learning
from each situation allowed for thoroughly reviewing the interpersonal aspects of conducting
interviews and the postinterview reflection. Identifying new insights from the interviews allowed
me to understand better how and when to bracket. Describing the action I needed to take from
the learning enabled me to identify and plan for using the new understanding in other situations,
such as subsequent interviews.
I attempted to recognize and document feelings that could indicate a lack of neutrality
when collecting and analyzing the data, including avoiding participants who caused me to
experience negative feelings or seeking out participants who led me to experience positive
emotions, such as articulate or friendly individuals (Ahern, 1999).
Reflexive journaling is a critical tool postinterview (Ahern, 1999). In reflecting on data
analysis, I bracketed my experiences fully and listened to the participants’ voices carefully.
Critical self-questions I used in this part of the reflexive journal were “Am I quoting more from
one participant than another, and if so, why?and “Do I agree with one participant’s sentiment
or turn of phrase more than that of another?(Ahern, 1999, p. 409).
Validity and Reliability
Member checks and triangulation were tools to ensure the study’s validity and reliability.
Member checking occurred following each interview to confirm my preliminary interpretations
and allow participants to read their transcripts for accuracy (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015). Each
participant completed member checking, with two participants emailing me several times until
we were both happy with the transcripts and meaning.
According to Merriam (2009), triangulation is perhaps the most well-known approach to
ensuring validity in a study. Triangulation involves using multiple data sources to corroborate
evidence (Creswell, 2009). Interviewing 10 participants was the primary step in triangulating.
When different participants described similar experiences, the interviews provided a degree of
assurance and validity.
I also maintained an extensive audit trail to detail the processes of data collection and
analysis. Reliability means producing consistent results with different participants, with either
the same or other researchers (Creswell & Poth, 2018). The thick, rich, and detailed audit trail
will allow others to follow the same processes and obtain similar results, indicating that the study
is reliable.
The research question explored was, What are the lived work experiences and
perceptions of HCN teachers employed in international schools utilizing a split-salary scale? I
interviewed 10 participants who met the following criteria: (a) were HCN teachers, (b) worked in
an international school or had done so within the last 5 years, (c) were aware that they are or
were receiving a salary substantially lower than equivalently qualified expatriate teachers, (d) did
not work in a school where I worked, and (e) were not actively seeking employment in a new
school. I used criterion sampling to recruit suitable participants. I recruited HCN participants
through an international teaching recruitment company and an international teachers’ career
coaching company. Before all interviews, I collected signed consent forms after explaining to
participants what their consent meant and that they could withdraw consent at any time without
repercussions. I made every effort to protect and treat the human subjects with dignity and follow
ethical considerations at each step of the process.
The primary data source for this phenomenological study was semistructured interviews.
Participants could reflect on and share their interpretations of the phenomenon and perceptions
of how it affected their schools. Data collected from the interviews underwent software
transcription followed by hand analysis to identify standard codes and themes that emerged from
the data. Member checks, data triangulation, and a detailed audit trail contributed to the study’s
reliability and validity.
Chapter IV: Findings
“The reaction when you tell the [expatriates] that you know their salary is different to
yours, that kind of thing is a bit of shock, and then, over time, they kind of make their
assumptions about why that happens.
Mei, Study Participant, 2021
The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the phenomenon
of split salaries in international schools from the lived experiences and perspectives of HCN
teachers to better understand the effect on their experiences in those schools. The study used
Rawls’ (1991) theory of justice as fairness as a lens in which to examine this topic.
Research Question
One research question guided the investigation of the phenomenon of split salaries in
international schools based on nationality from the perspective of HCN teachers: What are the
lived work experiences and perceptions of HCN teachers employed or recently employed in
international schools utilizing a split-salary scale?
Discussion of Findings
The Participants
Study participants were 10 HCN teachers from around the world with various
qualifications, experiences, and pathways into teaching and who have worked at different types
of international schools. Table 4.1 shows the demographic distribution of the participants’
nationalities. It is important to note that two participants were dual nationals employed as
nationals of the country where they worked. The most significant commonality between the
participants was the experience of receiving salaries three to five times lower than their
expatriate colleagues to perform the same work in international schools in their home country.
Table 4.1
Demographic Distribution of the Participants’ Nationalities
Second nationality
Malaysian Chinese
Malaysian Indian
From a country in central Africa
Note. The participants received pseudonyms to maintain their confidentiality.
I intentionally assigned pseudonyms based on countries of origin to add greater
authenticity than using Participants A–J, which can be cumbersome to the reader or reflect only
Western-based names. After assigning pseudonyms, I checked with each participant to confirm
the pseudonym was acceptable. All were happy with the identifiers, and one participant
exclaimed, “I love the pseudonym!
Table 4.2 shows the types of schools in which the participants worked. This table is
significant because the literature indicated that Type C nontraditional schools employed a
substantial split salary based on nationality. The literature did not show that Type A traditional
schools, such as embassy and nonprofit schools, or Type B ideological schools, such as UWC
schools, used split salaries based on nationality. However, four participants employed by Types
A and B schools reported substantial differences in pay between HCN and expatriate teachers,
much like many Type C nontraditional schools pay HCN and TCN staff less. Thus, the results of
this study indicated that at least some Type A and Type B schools do employ a split salary based
on nationality.
Table 4.2
Demographic Schools Attended by the Host-Country National Participants
Type of
Type A – traditional
Type B –
Type C –nontraditional
Type A represents the
traditional schools that first
emerged catering to
globally mobile expats.
Type B are
driven and pursue
an international
curriculum, e.g.,
Type C schools are the
latest type of international
schools to emerge and are
usually proprietary and are
expected to generate a
profit for their owners
Carmen, Lutalo, and
Loh, Weston, Soha,
Felicia, Mei, and Raya
Table 4 shows that three participants worked at a Type A school, one worked at a Type B school,
and the rest worked at Type C nontraditional schools.
Brief Descriptions of the Participants
Carmen is a Colombian national who also attended an international school in Vienna,
Austria, during her teenage years. Although her mother loved teaching, Carmen had no interest
in pursuing the profession. Over time, however, opportunities presented themselves; she became
a teacher and decided she “loved it.”
Lutalo is from a country in central Africa and “loves the French language.” As a graduate
of French literature, the only job he could secure was teaching French in schools. COVID meant
that many expatriates left international schools, creating an opportunity for him.
Felicia is an Indonesian awarded several scholarships to study in Melbourne, Australia.
Upon her return to Indonesia, as a condition of her scholarship, she found work in some well-
regarded international schools.
Born in Malaysia, Loh moved overseas to Switzerland at a young age and attended an
international school. She is currently working at an international school in Malaysia and has
experience at international schools outside her home country. Her mother tongue is Chinese.
Desi pursued her master’s degree on scholarship in the United States. After graduating,
she returned to Indonesia, her home country, to work in an elite international school in Bali.
Raya is an Indian Malaysian with 28 years of teaching experience and qualifications from
Malaysia and the United States. Raya has experience working abroad in four other countries in
addition to her home country.
Weston is Filipino and had worked in international schools in China before his current
international school in Manila. He has taught in language schools and regular international
schools along with his wife, who is also a qualified HCN teacher.
Saghar is Iranian and studied in London before returning to her home country to teach.
She taught at an embassy school considered very exclusive and liberal in conservative Iran.
Soha is an Arab from Lebanon who also holds a British passport. She has recently left
Lebanon and moved to the United States to teach at an international school.
Mei is a Filipino national with an English husband. She has teaching qualifications from
the Philippines and the United Kingdom. Mei has worked in international schools in three
With salaries purportedly based on qualifications and experience, I asked participants to
share their education and work history (see Table 4.3). The HCNs who participated in this study
were exceptionally well-qualified and experienced international school teachers.
Table 4.3
Qualifications of Each Participant
Postgraduate studies
Countries in which
qualifications were
Master of Science
Master of Arts Teaching
International Postgraduate
Certificate of Education
United Kingdom
Special Education Certificate
K–12 Special Education
United States
Master of Arts Teaching
United Kingdom
A central African
Postgraduate Certificate of
Education Teaching English as
a Foreign Language, Master of
Arts in International Education
United Kingdom
Table 4.3 Continued
Postgraduate studies
Countries in which
qualifications were
Master Teaching Curriculum
United States
Master of Arts in Elementary
United States
Master of Science in Social
Psychology, Master of Arts in
Educational Leadership,
Teaching English as a Foreign
Language (FEL) certificate,
U.S. teaching certification
United Kingdom
United States
The participants had a variety of educational experiences and qualifications. Nine of the
10 participants held a Bachelor of Education, a Master of Teaching, a teaching license, or
equivalent, with six holding master’s degrees. Nine of the 10 participants had traveled to and
resided in countries outside of their country of origin, and eight had attended higher education
institutions in Australia, the United Kingdom, or the United States. Carmen and Loh were third-
culture kids who attended international schools in Austria and Switzerland during their youth.
The participants had between 4 and 28 years of teaching experience, with an average of 12.3.
Figure 4.1
Years of Teaching Experience
Major Themes With Supporting Evidence
The major themes that emerged from the interviews were power, othering, and the cost of
compromise. Each major theme contained four or five subthemes, as shown in Table 4.4.
Carmen Desi Felicia Loh Lutalo Mei Raya Saghar Soha Weston
Ye a r s &
Table 4.4
Themes and Subthemes of the Study
Why work in an international school?
Resistance to change
Performative action by allies
Western branding
Expatriate privilege
The cost of compromise
Impact on morale and motivation
Forever proving yourself
Lack of diversity and representation
Leaving the school, country, and profession
Theme 1: Power
Power in the international school ecosystem belongs to the school owners and boards, as
represented by the heads of school and administrations (Gardner-McTaggart, 2018). Gardner-
McTaggart asserted, “Ultimately, what international schools do, is provide access to Englishness.
The policy of such schools is defined by the director(p. 113). The participants indicated that the
administrators in their schools fit this template, as they were all White expatriates. These
administrators wield power in hiring people like them from recruitment fairs to which many
HCN teachers do not have access (Canterford, 2009). Raya alluded to this concern, explaining
that she first went to an International School Services recruitment fair in the late 1990s to find a
job overseas. However, her administrator refused to write her a reference, so she could not gain
employment through the agency.
Administrators design, develop, approve, and apply policies governing international
schools, including recruitment and salary policies (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020). Power plays a
part in the salaries, structures, and other interactions between individuals and the various
stakeholders attached to each international school. Soha explained that expatriate teachers wield
power with their voices in the staff room, but that does not apply to HCNs. Carmen and Saghar
shared that expatriate leaders hold social functions outside of school without always including
HCN staff, allowing expatriate staff greater access to leadership. Power comes from the policies
in schools, academic programs, and curricula chosen by the teaching staff. Bailey (2021)
reported, “[Expatriate and HCN teachers’] language skills can be deployed as a way to
distinguish between them and therefore access to power(p. 31).
This theme of power included the “whyof working in an international school, with the
candidates’ answers centered around career-building and increased social capital from working
in their schools. The local staff indicated gaining a form of social capital by working in
international schools or with expatriates. Bailey (2021) identified social capital as the networks
of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances individuals can mobilize to achieve status and better
Rawls (1999) explained that the theory of power in an institution is like a game with a
given set of operating rules. The members within such a game use the distribution of power by
each availing themselves of the opportunities possible under the rules. Rawls stressed the need to
carefully design and observe the available arrangements, which tend to encourage different
behaviors. Rawls stated,
Ideally, the rules should be set up so that men are led by their predominant interests to act
in ways which further socially desirable ends. The conduct of individuals guided by their
rational plans should be coordinated as far as possible to achieve results which although
not intended or perhaps even foreseen by them are nevertheless the best ones from the
standpoint of social justice. (p. 49)
When one or two individuals hold the power, as described by the participants in this study, the
schools do not appear to meet this expectation of Rawlsian justice in having a set of rules
coordinated for the best social justice outcomes.
Other emergent subthemes were feelings of powerless or helplessness and the inability to
effect change; the perception that schools and many stakeholders do not want to change the
status quo, indicating resistance to change; and a perception that their expatriate colleagues are
involved in only performative action rather than real change.
Subtheme 1: Why Work in an International School? The participants in this study
reported being initially happy working for an international school due to better career options,
improved working conditions, and increased social capital. Carmen had been unaware of the
actual salary differences and was happy to begin building her teaching career. She said, “After a
while, at first I didn’t know, and I didn’t really care because I was new into the community, I
was eager to learn to teach.Felicia was also satisfied to build her career and was able to
overlook the split salary: “When I first started my teaching in the school, I didn’t really care
because it was my first job. So, I was like, Okay, I’m here to get an experience now.Saghar and
Lutalo said they were unaware of the salary difference when they started at their respective
schools, and it was only after they became aware of the difference that it began to bother them.
Lutalo said, “[The salary] sounded good at the time. But [now that I know about the difference]
it doesn’t sound nice, It’s not good.”
Loh experienced similar opportunities for local staff to build their careers in international
education. She said, “I mean, it could be budget-wise or whatever the reason is, but, you know,
in the sense that gives more opportunities, I feel for locals, which is great.”
Carmen also explained that working at an international school allowed her to complete
further study as a reason for overlooking the injustice of split salaries. She said, “When I started
working at the school where I am currently at there was an opportunity of doing a Masters of
Arts in Education, so I did my Master of Arts and Education with the University of Alabama.”
Mei explained how as an HCN teacher, she faces an ongoing internal battle with regard to
living with the salary difference in her school:
Yeah, I did, but that was in the beginning. I had to kind of swallow my pride because, to
me, I can’t— I come from one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world. So I
had to just think to myself, you know, I’m doing this to better myself because it’s good to
have [continuing professional development] anyway but also it adds to my CV [on
completing a PGCE after a B.Ed. with her school].
Working at a particular location or in a highly regarded school appeared to be a sacrifice
worth making, despite the inequity of salaries. Desi justified her choice “because it’s Bali and
then it’s [school name]. And then, everything seems forgivable.”
Participants indicated gaining social capital by working at these prestigious schools
instead of the local alternatives. Soha shared, “There’s also, I think, a kind of prestige because
again this internalized idea of they’re better if I’m associated with this kind of school than I’m
better than my public-school counterparts.
Lutalo felt lucky to receive a position at a prestigious international school in his country
because the COVID-19 pandemic had created vacancies the school could no longer fill with
expatriate staff. When asked if he would leave his international school because of ethnic-based
salary gaps, Lutalo emphatically replied, “It’s far better! You wouldn’t leave an international
school. …You compare with where you’re going to…because we compare international schools
[that] are [considered] a greener pasture here.
The embassy school that Saghar attended in Iran had a reputation for being very
privileged, even providing staff with access to parties and embassy events where alcohol was
available. Additionally, the school did not require female staff to wear the headscarf mandatory
in the local school. Therefore, the local teachers considered the liberal school environment
privileged. According to Saghar, the school’s narrative was that Iranian teachers could not return
to the local system because the local schools would regard them as too liberal after experiencing
the highly liberal, hedonistic lifestyle.
Subtheme 2: Powerless. Each participant felt the use of split salaries in international
schools was widespread in their countries and they had little power to change that. Half of the
participants explained that the phenomenon was well known, fully understood, and an accepted
norm. Loh told me, “I already knew what is ahead, I mean I already knew that this is how it is. I
think it’s just put into the minds of local teachers that lends to that,indicating the norm in
Malaysia is for local staff to believe and understand they should receive less pay than expatriate
Raya shared that the HCN teachers were vaguely aware of the salary differential but
perhaps not precisely so, saying, “I think people were aware, but not completely as we don’t talk
about salaries openly much.However, some schools were more transparent about utilizing a
split salary. Desi in Indonesia recalled the recruiter bluntly informing her, “[We] just want to
make sure that you know we are hiring for locals, and we can relate that you’re great, you’re
educated from the US and all, but an international package is not something that we offer for
Other participants were initially unaware of the salary difference based on nationalities.
Mei stated, “[Knowledge of the difference] is not widespread. …No, it wasn’t something that
was spoken about openly.Lutalo described his experience as “Nobody knows the difference
because local teachers are not very many in the school. So, the impact is so minimal.Saghar
explained how she and her colleagues were unaware of the salary disparity at first, “and then, the
rumors started coming up and information [about the differences in salaries] was, like, coming
Soha recalled one American expat who had taught at her school and was a good friend.
However, she said, “He’s still one of those people that got paid and got all those benefits because
he was American, and I was a local hire. Right, but we had been in the same program at
university.Her words indicated the unfairness she felt because she and her colleague had the
same education as expatriate teachers, yet with very different salaries based on their nationalities.
Soha also had insight into other schools in her country due to her various roles as an
International Baccalaureate (IB) workshop leader and IB consultant outside of her position at the
school. Thus, Soha had contacts with all 15 IB schools in Lebanon that “all have this local expat
situation” in which they paid local staff much less than their expatriate teaching staff.
Rawls (1999) warned,
Our way of life is without zest and we feel powerless to alter it or to acquire the means of
doing what we still want to do the least favored tend to be more envious of the better
situation of the more favored the less secure their self-respect and the greater their feeling
that they cannot improve their prospects. (p. 368)
Several participants reported that their schools had more complicated salary splits than
expatriate and HCN teachers. These institutions commonly paid Anglo-Western expatriates the
highest salaries, with less to expatriates from Asian countries and the least to HCNs. Desi’s
school paid American expats differently based on how well they could negotiate their salaries at
hire. Perceived unfairness led to unhappiness but masked the more significant difference
between expatriates and HCN. Saghar explained the discord that occurred in her embassy school
in Tehran. As the staff began to find out about the differences in salary scales, “We [the staff]
were like, ‘What is going on here?’ We have Iranians that were at different scales.” Weston
reported that he and his wife were the only teachers in his school who had overseas international
school experience. Still, both are in a lower salary bracket than the two other teachers with U.S.
passports and Filipino nationality.
Felicia, who is Indonesian, explained,
I know I get paid less than the Filipino teachers, and yes, they speak English more
fluently than some of the national teachers, but I think I don’t speak English worse than
them, and still, I get paid less than those Filipino teachers, and they’re still Asian.
However, despite her frustration, Felicia received a higher salary than her HCN colleagues
because she had higher education degrees from overseas. She continued, “And in terms of
national teachers among national teachers ourselves, because I had my education in Australia, I
did get paid higher than those who graduated from [a well-regarded university in Indonesia].”
Each participant described an inability to change the norm and a sense of helplessness
against the perceived injustice. Soha explained that proprietary schools are often very profit-
driven, “and they know where the profit comes from.She elaborated,
The reality is that the [White] face on the brochure…sells, and they know what sells. We
had a proprietary owner, who was, like, very lovely and very tight, but everyone knows
what the deal is…[and] the people who can do something about it either don’t feel like
they can or won’t.
Every participant in this study acknowledged that HCN salaries at international schools
were marginally higher than at local schools, perhaps as a slight justification for the salary
difference between expatriate and HCN teachers. For instance, Lutalo articulated, “It’s
comparing to the system and the local system. It’s far better; you wouldn’t leave an international
school! Because of the difference, because you compare with where you would be going to.
Lutalo went on to describe, “So being so vulnerable in our system, even what is bad. …But if
you compare from where you’ve been and where you are at, it’s far better [despite the challenges
of the split salaries].
Saghar shared, “We were being hired based on a very, very, low scale salary, which was
very close to the Iranian schools.However, international schools said the local staff should be
grateful to receive a higher salary than local schools. Saghar said, “This is how they would tell
us. They will compare us to a normal state school in which they don’t pay well at all and we
should be grateful to have this better job.”
Many international schools provide financial support to both HCN and expatriate
teachers, such as tuition discounts for their children. Carmen reported, “My two girls go to the
school. I get a 50% discount for each one of them. So that’s all!The school presented this as an
added benefit she would not receive in a local school, particularly as her school was one of the
best in Colombia. However, Soha described,
Being the better alternative doesn’t make it the right thing to do. It’s better than the
public school, but that doesn’t mean that’s the best that we can do. That doesn’t mean
that we shouldn’t be changing and working to get better. I think weaponizing the
alternative is not the answer.
Carmen said she and other colleagues had complained many times to school management
about the salary disparities between local and expatriate teachers, yet no change resulted. She
reported, “Okay, that’s [just] the way it is.” HCN teachers perceive they have no choice in the
matter of split salaries in international schools. Saghar said, “It is a sad reality we nonnatives
have to deal with every day,” and Felicia succinctly stated, “We just suck it up because what else
can we do?”
Rawls’ (1999) perspective was
We are not to gain from the cooperative labors of others without doing our fair share. The
two principles of justice define what is a fair share in the case of institutions belonging to
the basic structure. So if these arrangements are just, each person receives a fair share
when all (himself included) do their part. (p. 96)
As shown by the participants in this study, the expatriate staff gain from the cooperative labors
of others without doing their share of the work. Thus, the international schools in this study do
not qualify as just because not everyone receives their fair share.
Subtheme 3: Resistance to Change. Hughes (2020) described a normative belief among
international schools that it is acceptable to pay Anglo-American expatriates more than local
staff and somehow make the practice appear natural, legitimate, and justified. The HCNs in this
study were aware of this norm and knew that different stakeholders helped to perpetuate this
norm. As Raya stated, “If we know better, we do better. The question is, Do schools want to do
better and change this business model?”
According to the participants, some of their expatriate teacher colleagues help to
perpetuate the norm. Weston explained that his first international school, through the initiative of
expatriate British teachers, created new salary brackets based on teaching certifications and
country of origin. Weston explained, “For the teaching certification, they give higher premiums
for European and North American certifications. Plus, the salary bracket gives additional
incentive if you are from English-speaking countries or [are] a native speaker.Desi also
recounted a similar occurrence at her school in Bali. The expatriate teachers, unhappy with the
school’s lack of a salary scale, created two committees, one to develop a scale for expatriates and
one to make a different scale for local teachers. Desi exhibited frustration in sharing her
experience with the dual-salary model, explaining,
[With] the extra features here, there, and then at the end, [the compensation model] was
six times [higher] for the expat—well, until the lead teacher and the highest for the
Indonesian compared. They can hire three Indonesian teachers [for one expatriate
This experience of expatriate teachers reflects Rawls’ (1999) assertion that wage
determination by institutions represents weighing the various claims of balancing the value of the
skill, training, effort, and responsibility for the job. Arriving at the notion of a fair wage requires
finding a balance between the competing criteria. Rawls stated, “The determination of wages by
existing institutions also represents, in effect, a particular weighting of these claims. This
weighting, however, is normally influenced by the demands of different social interests and so by
relative positions of power and influence(p. 31). Individuals are likely to stress the criteria that
advantage them—in this case, their nationalities and native English-speaker statuses. If they wish
to be just, institutions must guard against these practices.
Carmen recalled the Head of School perpetuating the expatriate-versus-local division by
excluding HCN teachers and staff. She said, “He had a meeting, only with the expat teachers, to
know about the primary section, but he never met with the local teachers. So those are things that
make us mad.
However, it is not always the expatriate teachers or school leaders advocating for
inequitable salaries. In some cases, the local staff help perpetuate this norm. Desi recounted a
story of the local human resources staff insisting that a particular HCN teacher’s salary was
incorrect and should come down in line with other HCN staff in the school. She said,
My friend teaches at a big international school in Jakarta. And I think she was [the only]
one. My understanding, she still got paid at the same level as the expats, and then one HR
changed…the [previous] HR was German, and then [that HR personnel] changed to
Indonesian. So the Indonesian HR tried to change her salary… How would that even be
even possible? The expat was advocating for her more than the Indonesian.
Soha shared, “The environment impacts school culture. A big part of how we model
those values, how we teach values education. All this had a really big impact on motivation on
keeping teachers.She continued with an explanation about how the split salaries influence
school culture and how this culture permeates the school:
They [student community] see who’s in leadership, who isn’t. Sometimes they know
about the salary differences between teachers. But either way, they know that they’re in
the school, their parents have chosen this school for them not because of the local
teachers, [but] because of the others.
Salary differences are not binary. According to the participants, their schools had salary
scale hierarchies, as reflected in the perceived importance of different groups. In Soha’s school,
the expatriate teachers received better pay than she did. However, she received a higher salary
than the Arabs with only a single passport or who did not have a degree from overseas. She said,
“Yeah, they’re better than me, but hey, I’m better than that. Yeah, so this hierarchy then
The situation was also apparent in Iran, with teachers deriving status from the different
levels they held. Saghar explained, “We have expats, and then we have locals like me. And then,
we had a third group of Iranians that would feel superior to other Iranians because they had non-
Iranian passports, so we were three groups of people.”
All participants described the permutations of teacher nationalities and qualifications that
translate into different salaries in international schools. Figure 4.2 shows the salary scales
applied to the different demographics of HCNs, TCNs, and expatriates as described by the
participants in this study.
Figure 4.2
Hierarchy of Teacher Salaries in International Schools in This Study
Figure 4.2 is an amalgamation of the participants’ perceptions of the levels of teacher salaries. It
is important to note that the schools concerned did not necessarily use every category in this
Raya thought the expatriate teachers were happy to perpetuate the norm of being paid far
more than local teachers or teachers of color, despite what would happen in their home countries,
because they were the beneficiaries of such a system. She said,
I believe there are laws protecting people from getting discriminated in terms of salary
based on their nationality, color, gender, et cetera in most developed countries. Am I right
on this? I think it’s against the law, but somehow many international schools have
succeeded in convincing themselves that it’s okay to discriminate to maintain the
“decadent lifestyleof expat teachers.
The expatriate staff are not the only ones who benefit, as school owners and boards gain
from split salaries in for-profit schools. According to Soha, the norm of split salaries based on
nationalities is “especially [prevalent] in proprietary schools. The owners are local, and so
that…happens.Soha discussed normalizing pay discrimination to such a degree that staff learn
not to talk about salaries with each other and that there is very little transparency about
compensation. She said: “I mean, the first time I saw a pay scale was when I came to the school
in the US. I didn’t even realize that pay scales [existed] or anything.”
So, what is the alternative? Soha connected cultural values and understanding with salary
equity when describing what an equitable school would look like. Her current school did not
demonstrate these values and understanding, as it did not have equitable salary scales. Soha
So, an equitable school, I think, looks like something where people can be seen and
understood, so we’re talking about intercultural understanding. We’re talking about expat
teachers coming in and learning the context, but that being part of the job. We’re talking
about a pay scale. We’re talking about valuing local culture, not just because of the food
and the flags, whatever the local wineries are, but genuinely, what is the history of this
place, what are the trigger points.
Rawls (1999) described a social union in which each person contributes, not necessarily
for the greater good, but because everyone makes different contributions to a common goal when
recognizing the original position is just. For many HCN teachers, the injustice of split salaries is
apparent, but the path forward is unclear. Many HCNs feel that schools do not want to change or
are reluctant to take risks. A few years ago, Carmen joined the school board where she worked
and sought to increase Colombian teachers’ benefits and salaries. One of her proposals was to
narrow the gap between the tuition benefits expatriates received compared to their Colombian
counterparts; however, the administration refused her proposal on the grounds that it would cost
too much. Carmen sighed, “Honestly, I don’t think there’s a willingness to change.Raya
explained that, “in general, the local teachers don’t cause ripples, either. They just do their jobs.
Referring to HCN teacher discontent, Raya said, “You know they were not happy, but because
they feel powerless and can’t change the system…you just keep quiet and do your job.”
Some beneficiaries of the current system are actively resistant to change rather than just
reluctant. School owners profit from proprietary schools, and expatriates benefiting from a
relatively high standard of living and salary can be highly resistant to change. The HCN
participants perceived their expatriate colleagues as beneficiaries of the system who did not want
to speak up or change it. Raya commented, “It is not altogether unsurprising that these
expatriates in the international school ecosystem are generally not pushing for change. …They
[are] getting a very good deal, so they’re not going to cause ripples or question.Similarly, Soha
added, “And those that don’t feel that they can [effect change] is a big [group] because they also
feel like ‘I can’t lose this job’ and, like, all these things.Raya noted, “People are reaping
benefits from this system, right, so why would they shake it up?”
Desi’s school published a modified salary framework that reduced the salary differences
between expatriates and HCNs. Several expatriate teachers left the school that year because they
were unhappy about receiving less pay than when they started. Desi said,
Some decide to leave because the one that got paid like very high beforehand when they
got a very high deal. They got hired, and then they have, and of course, because of that
reward so they have to, they will receive less salary this year, and that makes many…
They leave the country.
Subtheme 4: Performative Action by Allies. The participants said that, as they work
together, many HCN and expatriate teacher colleagues become friends. When those friends
became aware of the salary differences, they usually expressed regret but little else. Being an ally
of the local staff does not often extend to any real action that might assist in change. According
to Soha, “It was incredibly unfair, and incredibly, I think damaging to the psyche of the local
teachers because you accept it.” She went on to explain,
Of the schools in Lebanon where I knew expat teachers are aware of it if you spoke to
them, [they would say that] was this was definitely not okay. But nobody would actually
want to say anything about it, like, nobody would advocate for change. And that’s not to
say anything negative about them. It’s hard to give up money.
Soha found it interesting that the teachers with whom she worked and for whom she had great
affection would talk openly about her and the other local teachers receiving a fraction of their
salaries. She said, “I know that they thought it was unfair,but no action occurred.
Raya shared a similar sentiment on the performative actions of allies, noting their
discomfort but also lack of effort. She explained,
I think some expat teachers are aware of it and maybe wanted to talk about it or
sympathize. You know they sympathize, but a lot of them don’t talk about it, don’t want
to hear it, or are they uncomfortable. So, it’s not a conversation you really have with your
colleagues. I think the ones that sympathize, they sympathize with you, but they do not
do more. That’s as far as it goes.
Carmen felt this lack of action by so-called friends and allies ultimately divided the staff room
into expatriates and locals. The participants believed their allies’ performative action helped
perpetuate the inequalities in international schools. Friends, colleagues, and allies privately
expressed sympathy to the HCNs for the system, yet with nothing done. The participants felt that
nobody wants to say anything about it; nobody advocates for change.
With the theory of justice, Rawls (1999) used the hypothetical veil of ignorance to
describe a situation where people are unaware of their circumstances before deciding the rules of
the society to which they will belong; thus, each person chooses rules that will be fair to all
members. Rawls explained, “Endowed with ideal powers of sympathy and imagination, the
impartial spectator is the perfectly rational individual who identifies with and experiences the
desires of others as if these desires were his own(p. 24). As a result, the hypothetical legislators
would assign appropriate weight and value to a set of social rules, “along which rights and duties
are to be assigned and scarce means of satisfaction allocated in accordance with rules so as to
give the greatest fulfillment of wants” (Rawls, 1999, p. 24). However, in schools where
expatriate teachers already know they will earn three to five times more than local teachers, they
can express sympathy with their colleagues but do nothing to change the practice.
Theme 2: Othering
Othering is the construction of the identity of the self as part of the in-group and the other
as the out-group by identifying desirable characteristics of the in-group. Brons (2015) noted,
“Othering thus sets up a superior self/in-group in contrast to an inferior other/out-group, but this
superiority/inferiority is nearly always left implicit(p. 70). In international schools, the practice
can mean othering entire schools, such as the Tier 1–versus–Tiers 2 or 3 schools discourse in
rating the best international schools compared to bilingual or private local international schools
(Machin & Whitehead, 2020). According to this study’s participants, othering can also happen
inside these schools in terms of qualifications, pedagogical knowledge, experiences, and
nationality. The subthemes that emerged from Theme 2 were international schools’ branding of
their Western credentials, the colonial mindset underpinning split salaries, colonialism as a
justification of the norm, Whiteness, and expatriate privilege.
Subtheme 1: Western Branding. The participants perceived the Western branding by
international schools (or British by British international schools, American by American
international schools) extends to teachers, curricula, students, and alumni destinations. In a
globalized world of education and employment where employers cannot know the policies of
every school or university, the branding of elite education becomes key (Brown & Lauder,
2010). As a result, many international schools have a strong market preference for Anglo-
American pedagogies, teachers, credentials, and English-language competency (Bunnell &
Poole, 2021). Loh said as much when she stated, “It is what parents want and how they advertise
a school, you know. Like you said, if it’s a British school, they obviously will expect British
teachers, right?Mei claimed, “We are a school that says we are a British school, so they have to
only take British nationals.Raya expressed similar feelings and perceptions in saying,
I feel also there’s this old mindset of we [expatriate] are better teachers, better educated,
we are better exposed, you know, and maybe there’s some truth to it, possibly because
the education system may make Asian countries not as good, [have a] colonized mindset,
because British education is superior.
Considering the why of international schools branding requires examining the origins of
modern international schools (Hughes, 2021b). Soha considered the original purpose of
international schools formation:
If I think back to the beginning when international schools started, and schools hired
exclusively expats and as those schools evolved and began to hire more local staff,
however, those schools still implement Western-based curricula and are seen as superior,
and expat teachers are seen as better. They’re seen as having [a better Western]
pedagogy, they’re seen as being more effective teachers, they’re seen as being more
skillful on the ground and in the classroom.
Regarding curricula, Soha stated, “Our international schools and IB schools still
implement Western curricula. In as much as those curricula are described as international,
they’re still artifacts of Western educational ideologiesconsidered superior to any alternative
local curriculum.
The HCNs felt that community members attracted to international schools rightly or
wrongly believed that Western-trained teachers are better than locally trained. The perception is
that parents and schools consider teachers from the West as better than local teachers even with
the same qualifications. Several participants, including Raya, Soha, Desi, and Loh, continued
that many parents and schools conflate race with nationality so that even the Anglo-American
teachers in international schools tend to be Caucasian or White more than any other race. Raya
blamed parent expectations for the idea of the native English speaker being better than a
nonnative English speaker, saying, “Schools insist on having native English speakers because the
clientele is the other factor that needs to be taken into account.However, she often substituted
“White” for “native English speaker” during the interview, stating, “Even local parents want—
because, again, it’s the mindset—a White person as a teacher. That perception is that, ‘Oh, my
kid is going to be better off than being educated by a local teacher.’ That mindset is still there.”
Loh found the culture of her country and the school communities also accountable for
wanting a British education. She explained,
I would say, as a local, the mentality [is] how our local education is not up to the standard
of what [is] British education. Because of that, international schools [are seen] as a higher
tier than local schools, which they are. But I think people generally just think that, so it’s
understandable [to want an international education].
Western branding also suggests that a Western teacher or a native English speaker will be
better at developing English language proficiency, which is currently the lingua franca of most of
the world (Yoshihara, 2018). However, English proficiency then becomes conflated with
pedagogical proficiency (Yoshihara, 2018). Carmen shared, “There’s a tendency of parents doing
that: Their English is better, their accent is better.However, she disagreed with their
But that’s not what good teachers are. For me, a good teacher is not one with perfect
grammar, [it’s] one that is able to connect with the students. If one is someone that cares
for their emotions, that plans lessons, that gives feedback so much, [it is better than] just
having perfect English.
Anglo-American branding is not the sole cause of salary disparities. In the 2010s, Finland
developed a worldwide reputation for quality education based on improved PISA scores
(Andere, 2015). Therefore, Soha’s school administrators were excited to “[have] a teacher who
was hired from Finland, which is meant to be, like, the epitome. So, he came and I was thinking,
‘This is going to be the best, this teacher from Finland.’” However, he did not live up to her—or
the school’s—expectations.
Soha concluded that Western branding for international schools is necessary because it is
at the core of the school’s identity. She spoke about “this idea that we’ve kind of all internalized
that everything Western is better and more valuableand explained, “The marketing [of
international schools pushes this narrative], because how do we sell ourselves as an international
school if we don’t?
Subtheme 2: Colonialism. Felicia felt the Anglo-American preference derived from a
colonial history. She stated,
I think the focus is not on the expatriate teachers; it’s on the system itself. It’s why we are
willing to be treated this way because it’s largely due to the fact that in the past we were
colonized by the Dutch, and then that really has impacted our self-esteem, so we think
that White people are better than us, and without realizing it, until now, it’s been passed
on and carried on.
Soha related,
Because it’s all this kind of postcolonial mindset, as well, we’ve all bought into this, but
there’s also a reality that a lot of parents who can afford to send their kids to these types
of schools want them to go to U.S. universities or universities. They believe that the best
way to get them there is to [attend an Anglo-American international school].
When asked if the ethnic gap in salaries was justifiable, Desi answered emphatically,
No. Justify? What justification? Skin color or our nationality? Our education
qualification, teaching experience? No, nothing. It’s [justification] not there. There’s no
single criteria. It doesn’t make sense.
The schools in this study presented a stratification of salaries based on nationality. Felicia
I know I get paid less than the Filipino teachers, and yes, they speak English more
fluently than some of the national teachers, but I think I don’t speak English worse than
them, and still, I get paid less than those Filipino teachers, and they’re still Asian.
The participants perceived that being in high demand by international schools could
affect some expatriates’ behaviors and dispositions. The HCNs reported that many expatriate
teachers began to act as if they were better and more important. Felicia said, “So they don’t need
to pay for anything except if they want to employ an assistant at home.Raya contributed with
her assessment:
I know a lot of expat teachers who were nobodies in their countries, and when they move
overseas, they adopt this superior, entitled, uppity, all-knowing persona, going around
helping “poor uneducated localsand being vocal about it while openly putting down the
local teachers or the local culture.
Soha agreed and added,
The way that expats come into school and talk about the local teachers, talk about the
strategies that the local teachers use… “Oh, look at how they do this” and “Aren’t they
terrible with that?” and “This is such a joke,” and they don’t know how to teach. So
there’s definitely—and this is again not everyone—but…seeing oneself is better that they
can come in and change everything. They can come in and, within a few weeks, [be]
telling everyone what they’re doing wrong. …Some [expatriate] teachers start to feel it
and start to see it as their right.
Felicia reported that schools’ stratification or hierarchy continues among local teachers
who have an overseas education, “and in terms of national teachers among national teachers
ourselves, because I had my education in Australia, I did get paid higher than those who
graduated from [a well-regarded university in Indonesia].” Lutalo shared that HCN support staff
fall below the hierarchy of the HCN teachers, saying, “The support staff for them, it is much,
much less. So much less. Okay, so honestly, it’s so much less that they wouldn’t do it even
[mentioned it]. [They’re] too shy to say.”
The participants perceived that salary differences contributed to the expatriates
perceiving themselves as more special than the HCN teachers. Soha said, “But I think even
[expats] believe it as well. They believe that this school owes it to us to bring us here.”
Subtheme 3: Whiteness. Gardner-McTaggart (2020) stated, “Internationalism through
international schools is often an extension of Englishness and Whiteness, an Anglo-
Internationalism steeped in post-colonialism” (p. 6). The participants’ responses aligned with this
statement as they shared several instances of colonialism and examples of Whiteness within the
international schools where they had worked. Gardner-McTaggart (2018) explained that the
school leadership sets the tone in a school, “The director is chosen by the school board
representing the community. The ‘winning’ template for IB international schools director is
simple: White, English native-speaker and middle class” (p. 113). When considering the origin
of international schools and their postcolonial tendencies, Raya identified the schools’ original
position as one of privilege and for White people:
Why did these schools get created in the first place? They were created for White
students and the expat communities, wasn’t it? It was created for expats…so, obviously,
the teachers would be expats. But I think as time went and as the expats left the countries,
[schools] needed revenue. They started bringing in local children, and then, slowly, that’s
how it transitioned.
Despite the historical legacy of choosing Anglo-American teachers in schools (Bunnell &
Poole, 2021; COBIS, 2020b; Gardner-McTaggart, 2018; International School Services, 2018),
many HCNs in this study said their schools select not only Anglo-American teachers but White
Anglo-American teachers. Desi shared, “It seems like their skin color and language is spoken,
and then you know, like, they’re in the group of either Western or Australian or American.
Raya articulated the implicit message of international schools with a preference for hiring White
Anglo-American expatriate teachers and paying them significantly more than HCN teachers,
saying, “I think it just comes from the old colonial mindset that White people are better than
Brown people.
Soha described the demographics of the schools where she had worked as primarily
White expatriates. She explained, “Most of our expat teachers that are hired are also White. We
had a non-White expat teacher, and the other school, they just only recently for the first time
hired a woman who was American Indian.She reflected on her situation, admitting, “Yes, it’s
very difficult. I’m still trying to get hired as an Arab in an English department in an international
school.However, she considered herself more fortunate than others because being a dual
national meant she could leave the country and pursue opportunities abroad, however limited,
unlike her colleagues. She explained, “And I’m one of the lucky ones. My peers, my friends and
colleagues from Lebanon who don’t have dual nationality, nobody’s trying to hire them. Nobody
values [what] they can bring even though they’re phenomenal teachers.
Mei felt the differences and apparent preferences for one group of teachers was a
consequence of conflating difference in appearance with competence:
Students are conditioned to see the expats, mostly Caucasian people, around them, and
then someone who looks a little bit different to what they’re used to, there’s that initial
maybe…and gauging the competence of this person: “Is this person as good as my
current teacher?”
Felicia shared that, in her country,
We think that you know White people, they are better than us, and without realizing it,
until now, it’s been passed on and carried on, too. You know, lots of different areas in our
country, education, business, and, you know, and we just always think, “Oh, they speak
English fluently. They’re better than us. You know, they have fair skin color, they’re
better than us,” and it’s really hard to change that because then it means that we just have
to get rid of our whole generation and start over, and that’s just not possible.
In referring to the ethnic gap in the salary, Soha felt that split salaries implicitly told the
community who was important and who was not. She said the model “signals who is valuable.
Signals whom we care about it. Signals who, if there’s an issue, we’re going to stand with.”
Raya summarised her feelings about the issue of Whiteness in international schools by
I don’t know about international schools anymore. I feel like their values and my values
don’t align anymore in salary things and how colored people are being treated. I mean,
it’s still— You’re still treated badly treated like second-class citizens, and I just feel like
everything doesn’t align with what international school represented to me. It no longer
represents [me]; it’s just a system that is favoring you. Well, I mean, I just— I don’t
believe in it anymore.
One participant, however, said she did not experience the same structural racism. Saghar
claimed, “I had encountered a few racist experiences, but it was really limited. I don’t even want
to consider it as an issue because it was not an issue.”
Subtheme 4: Expatriate Privilege. Each participant recounted several ways in which
international schools favor expatriates. Participants explained that expatriates received
preference in recruitment, higher salaries, promotions, and behavior. Despite having less
knowledge of the local context, Soha related, “They [expatriate teachers] come, and they really
want to implement what they know without thinking about, ‘Does this work in this context?’
She continued, “As a result, [expatriates]…made everything harder for everyone else because
they weren’t very good at their job, they weren’t competent, [and] they didn’t have the
experience to do that position.Carmen recalled missing out on a middle leader position because
the school already had two local staff in similar roles. Instead, the school “basically offered it to
a new teacher. He was English, and [he] got it. He had no experience at all, but he was—he had
the right passport.Even though she was much more qualified than he, she lamented, “It doesn’t
matter if you have lots of experience and…a master’s degree.”
Soha found the school favored expatriates for positions of responsibility based on
nationality. She explained, “They would, like, if you’re a local teacher, you will never make it to
principal or above. Never. And they actually have a policy of only hiring Americans as Head of
School.This discrimination is in complete opposition to the theory of justice, about which
Rawls (1999) stated, “A wide diffusion of benefits is favored by two features of institutions both
exemplified by the basic structure: first, they are set up to advance certain fundamental interests
which everyone has in common, and second, offices and positions are open(p. 24).
Soha felt that because the leaders were all expatriates, they would implicitly prefer their
expatriate colleagues. She explained,
If you need to go to leadership because you have a problem and that leader is Western
instead of local, you think, “Well, they don’t see me as important. They don’t see me as
valuable. How am I going to trust this leadership?”
Soha said that HCN staff miss out on the relationship-building between people of similar
cultures. Accordingly, if the leaders are always expatriates, they leave out her and her Lebanese
colleagues. She asked,
Who has access to that leadership? Who’s building relationships? So, even the softer
parts of it end up being inequitable. If I have a leader that doesn’t understand me or my
context or where I come from, how will they ever see my value?
Carmen expressed similar sentiments and confirmed the problem. She noted that the
expatriate head of her school arranged expatriate-only parties at his house on the weekends,
excluding the HCNs and relegating them to the out-group.
International schools tend to hire White expatriates for middle and senior leadership
positions, sending a clear message about the capability and desirability of staff from Anglo-
American countries (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020). Desi, Lutalo, Mei, Raya, Weston, and Loh
reported that expatriates held all the positions of responsibility in their schools. Although
Carmen’s school had a 50% rule, she described it as problematic, saying,
It doesn’t matter if you have lots of experience, and you have a master’s degree, that
which is my case. …I applied for a coordinator’s position 2 years ago. And because there
was already two local teachers, the rector of the school basically offered it to a new
teacher to the school; he was English and got it. Very unfair. He had no experience at all,
but he had the right passport.
At Soha’s school, even though expatriates had left the country and left positions vacant,
the school board had not filled those positions. Even though the school had talented HCN staff
who could do those jobs, she explained,
So in a situation like now, [with] everything that’s happening in Lebanon, there’s been an
exodus of foreign staff, which means schools have had key leadership positions vacated
because the people in them aren’t invested in the country. They feel no need to be there.
It’s easy for them to take the money and leave. And then the schools are left high and dry,
but they still won’t fill those spots with locals.
This study’s participants perceived that many expatriate teachers failed to demonstrate a
commitment to the schools compared to the dedicated local teachers, with school quality
suffering as a result. Desi related, “Those who think that they will stay just for 2 or 3 years are
not, like, the one[s] who really care about it [educating the students] in Bali. They just want to
come because it’s Bali.” Soha shared a similar perspective:
For some people, it’s a vocation. They’re teaching their children, and it’s something
that’s very important to them. And for others, it’s just an excuse to visit some wineries in
different countries. …Expatriates bring less value because they are transient, because
they weren’t ever going to be as emotionally invested.
Soha suggested expatriates examine their motives and consider, “How do I care about these
children and their futures, not just what this place looks like on my CV, and update my number
of countries visited on my Facebook?
Her experiences in the United Kingdom and the United States gave Soha a slightly
different perspective of the expatriate teachers in her school than the other HCNs in this study.
She said they had humbler backgrounds than teachers from the United Kingdom or the United
States. She explained,
I know that a lot of teachers from the UK and the US leave because over there, they don’t
enjoy being a teacher. Their experience teaching abroad is so much better for them than
they had in their home countries. I think the experience to travel and teach for them is a
Expatriate compensation and the resultant split salaries are extremely divisive among
staff in many international schools. Soha said, “There’s a lot of tension about it, but it’s also
This narrative is so strong, like, ‘Well, if we don’t offer them this and they won’t come’to
justify the higher salaries international schools offer to expatriates. Soha continued, “We do
exactly the same job, same teaching hours, same, same, same, same, I get maybe a third of their
pay. They would also get medical insurance, housing, and an annual ticket home.”
However, there are benefits for the HCN teachers as well. Lutalo said his school was
unique as one of the most expensive, expatriate-only schools in his country. The student body
was mainly the children of diplomats from other African countries and wealthy middle-class
families. Due to the COVID pandemic, many expatriate teachers left, leaving one or two
openings for HCN teachers who had been in the state school system. When I asked whether he
would leave because of the split salaries, Lutalo exclaimed, “Oh, can I tell you that? I’ve left the
school. I’ve left the school. But not because of that [the split salary]. But because airports are
opened, and the expat teachers can come back now.”
A competent teacher in one educational context does not always become an excellent
teacher in a new school due to differences in schools, cultures, and countries. For many new
expatriate teachers, adjustments and settling in take time. The Finnish teacher working in Soha’s
school struggled significantly. She explained, “I’m sure that he’s a fine teacher, but he didn’t
understand the context. He couldn’t adapt to what behavior management looked like in our
context.She continued, “But he would say terribly racially insulting things about Arabs and
Arab kids and things like that.”
Rawls (1999) stated,
To deny justice to another is either to refuse to recognize him as an equal (one in regard
to whom we are prepared to constrain our actions by principles that we would choose in a
situation of equality that is fair), or to manifest a willingness to exploit the contingencies
of natural fortune and happenstance for our own advantage. (p. 59)
As Soha had earlier related, the Finnish teacher refused to recognize the Arab teachers as his
equals when he said insulting things about this and their work and this was denying them justice.
Theme 3: The Cost of Compromise
The HCN participants have to reconcile themselves with this structural inequity daily
when they work in international schools. They reported that the structural inequality affected
their morale, motivation, and overall mental health and psyche. Each HCN participant denied
any link between the inequitable environment and lower quality of teaching and learning. When I
reworded the question to ask what a school with no inequity looked like, each teacher described
an improvement in the school and teaching and learning. Loh exclaimed, “That would be like
Understanding why the HCN teachers felt the weight of this disparity comes from
examining Rawls’ (1999) theory of justice, which indicates that even when people in power can
effect much good in the organization, the injustice negates the good. The wage disparity, not
receiving their fair share, and the closed positions of responsibility affect the HCN teachers
because, as Rawls suggested, “They were debarred from experiencing the realization of self
which comes from a skillful and devoted exercise of social duties. They would be deprived of
one of the main forms of human good” (p. 73).
Four subthemes emerged from Theme 3: the effect on morale and motivation, forever
needing to prove themselves as competent teachers and professions, the lack of diversity and
representation in international schools, and the idea of leaving their schools, their countries, or
the teaching profession.
Subtheme 1: Impact on Morale and Motivation. Each participant shared stories of how
the split-salary scheme affected their motivation, morale, and self-worth. Mei described the
situation in the third person, referring to her HCN colleagues rather than herself directly, saying,
“It affects their morale when they know.Adding the qualifier of a fair comparison, she
Especially if they’re put in a position where they’re doing exactly the same thing, and it’s
just as accountable as the next person who is getting paid a lot more, [this split salary]
makes them feel [less] valued, I think, despite your love for your job and your love for
your class. Know[ing] that you’re just as accountable…you are held to the same
standards but not given the same respect back. …It isn’t good for your morale.
Only one participant thought the effect on morale could impact the quality of teaching
and learning within the school. Lutalo revealed, “It makes you look so vulnerable. You’re asking
for your pay, but you’re vulnerable. And it doesn’t treat you so well, the effect [on] your psyché
of psychology…your morale, the morale to go to class. It’s kind of reduced.” He then mitigated
this comment by explaining that even though salary disparities were demoralizing to HCN staff,
the international schools in his country were still better than the local schools’ pay and
conditions. Lutalo said, “Yeah, it would it really would [affect your morale] if you realize
because, of course, I told you that in the beginning. But if you compare from where you’ve been
and where you are at, it’s still better.”
Mei also answered the question in the third person, stating that the demoralizing effect of
working days in a split-salary regime made HCN staff less inclined to put in extra work. She
Rather than being motivated to do more and step up, those members of staff will [think],
“I’m already giving so much and getting so, so much less or step up for extra things,” so
rather than for improving their own professional development within the school,
they’re—unless they can crack that mindset—they’re [saying], “Why bother?”
Carmen also believed the disparity affected HCN teachers’ morale. She spoke about a
young expatriate teacher arriving at her school and receiving a significantly higher salary than
her and her HCN colleagues who had 10 to 15 years more experience and greater qualifications.
She remarked, “So you see those differences and say, ‘It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.’ [It] makes
you feel not valued.Carmen felt that her school’s visible disparity directly affected the morale
of HCNs. She explained, “I think the morale. It’s not as positive as it could be. There’s a
tendency of—How can I say this?—jealousy.”
The adverse effects on morale, fairness, and motivation affected the school climate.
Carmen explained,
It impacts morale, not only for local people but also expat teachers, right now, at the
moment. The atmosphere in primary [the primary school] is quite negative. We are
getting expat teachers who have been here for 18 or 19 years. …So, what happens?
Everybody starts complaining. Everybody complains, so when you go out for recess or
lunch, it’s the same topic. Complaints, complaints, complaints, and this, of course, affects
Raya was a little more critical of herself and her colleagues, musing,
Maybe local teachers are really the fools here because we agreed to getting paid less. I
endured it for 12 years myself. I did say to myself, “I want to get the same salary as my
expat colleagues.” It’s a thought I had for many years after I noticed the difference.
Unfortunately, for me, the only way it could happen was for me to leave home.
Raya continued, “I think it was not just the salary. It was also about how the locals were
treated and how certain expat staff were favored and how decisions were being made.She
identified the split salaries as more of a symptom than a cause, suggesting the need to address the
entire system due to the impacts on people like her. Raya stated,
The disparity in salary is just a small symptom of a system that is disturbing and
pervasive. You’re just scratching the surface. In my case, the disparities meant years of
trauma from enduring racism, bullying, daily microaggressions, the double standards, and
being treated unfairly from all sides, et cetera. I had no voice, but that by itself was a
painful realization of how I chose to survive day in and day out. It’s a common story of
not having a voice or not having a safe space to speak.
Soha explained, “The environment impacts school culture. [School culture is] a big part
of how we model those values and how we teach values education.She indicated a disconnect
between schools’ visions and missions of internationalism and their practices. Soha connected
school culture and retention by saying, “As I said, had a really big impact on motivation on
keeping teachers.”
Subtheme 2: Forever Proving Yourself. Many HCN participants felt that although they
were more qualified and experienced, the school did not recognize their professional credentials
compared to their expatriate colleagues. Felicia shared,
When I finished my Master of Teaching degree, my second master’s, I was a bit
[unhappy]. I minded a little bit [about the salary discrepancy] when I started at school. At
that time, I had two master’s degrees, [one master degree] in chemistry and [one master
degree] in teaching. And my salary was 15 million [Indonesian Rupiah], whereas another
teacher who was an expat from the UK… She only has some sort of certificate from
Australia. …It’s not even equal to a diploma, and then she got 25 million [Indonesian
Rupiah], so it’s like 10 million apart. Yes, me, a national teacher with two overseas
master’s degrees in comparison to an English speaker who’s just got a Certificate IV [a
diploma-level qualification instead of a bachelor’s-level degree].
At Loh’s first school, a prominent British international school in Malaysia, “I wasn’t
allowed to be a teacher at the school. The reason was because they say that parents see me as a
teaching assistant. Therefore, I cannot progress as a teacher in the same school.”
Because of perceptions that salary defines the value of an employee’s contribution
(Yoshihara, 2018), a consequence of the disparate salary structure is that HCNs feel they must
regularly prove themselves and demonstrate their worth in their schools. Soha shared, “I did have
to do more work because you always have to be, like, to be seen as valuable because you don’t
get that same benefit of the doubt.” She explained,
If you come in and you’re a foreigner in front of parents, all you need to do is say
something, and they’ll accept it. But if you’re a local teacher, you need to build up that
relationship for them to take it at face value without having to defend and defend and
Reflecting on the impact of the salary difference in the wider community and how people
value local teachers, Mei recounted, “And you can see that those children don’t give that same
respect when [local teachers] walk in. The [HCN] teachers really have to earn that respect.She
concluded, “So anyone who’s got Asian heritage has a complication. They have to prove
themselves, even to their children, just through that conditioning [that Anglo-Western teachers
are better than HCN teachers].She explained that students might not know the salary
differences, but they could still pick up on the adults’ messaging of who is important.
There was also a perception among participants that expatriate teachers receive greater
leniency than HCNs. Soha explained,
I think there’s this free pass given to people who come from a Western educational
context because it’s seen as superior. And then in the classroom, once they’re there and
that money’s been invested in them, then they’re going to be kept, even if their
performance isn’t as great.
Lutalo described his line managers’ lack of trust, saying, “You have to prove to the
people you can teach.Raya also explained opportunity costs specific to continuing professional
development or middle-leadership promotions, saying, “I always felt like I had to do more and to
prove myself.This practice of opportunity cost for HCNs and the need for Raya to prove herself
was similar to the “free pass” mentioned by Soha. Raya related,
I noticed that I had to do more, work harder. But still, I noticed that my colleagues would
do mediocre work and get maybe more recognition. Or you might have an idea, you
voice your idea, and it doesn’t go anywhere, but then when my colleague says the same
thing, yeah, it gets accepted.
The free pass enjoyed by expatriates is not limited to opportunities but affects responses
to mistakes. Raya explained,
What I notice this is when my expat, my—okay, I’ll use the word, Caucasian
colleagues—when they messed up, it’s felt like the consequences are less. Either there’s
no consequence—you know, they [school management] close their eyes—or the
consequences [are] small. But when a colored person messes up, the consequence is
swifter, faster, bigger. What is that?
Subtheme 3: Lack of Diversity and Representation. International schools that employ a
split salary based on nationality do a disservice to their students, who lack a level of diversity
and representation (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020). This preference for Anglo-American teachers
leads to a lack of diversity and a lack of representation for the local students. Raya recalled
interviewing for an international school in Singapore. The head gave her a tour of the school,
And I remember walking into the room, you know, showing me around, and I walked
into the staff room and everybody, like, just stopped and looked at me, and everybody
was White in the room, and I remember feeling, “Oh, interesting. Where are all the other
Soha shared, “For our local children who see people who look like them as less, then
they, in turn, [develop that same] mindset themselves,which leads to a culture thinking that
Western people, pedagogies, and curricula are better. She continued, “This aspiration to Western,
this aspiration to Whiteness is immediately passed down to our local kids.” In summary, Soha
said, “[International schools] don’t value who you are, where you come from, and the local
teachers that we do hire to reflect our local students, the only message that’s really sending is,
‘Don’t be like that.’”
Felicia described the impact of a split salary environment on the students:
The impact. Sure, maybe it’s for the students. Because then they see injustice, the system
is in Indonesia, how unfair it is. [If] we don’t instill the self-worth values in their life,
especially the national students’ lives, then they could carry it on in their lives. They
think that they’re not any better than Caucasians or those who actually speak English as
their first language.
Soha spoke about the challenges of being an Arab English teacher:
Yes, it’s very difficult. I’m still trying to get hired as an Arab at an English department in
an international school. Well, and I’m one of the lucky ones. My peers, my friends, and
colleagues from Lebanon who don’t have dual nationality—Nobody’s trying to hire
them. Nobody values [what] they can bring even though they’re phenomenal teachers.
Subtheme 4: Leaving the School, Country, and Profession. The participants with more
than 10 years of experience working for international schools had left their country or profession.
The only exception was Carmen, who remained where she was for her children to attend the
school. Felicia moved to Australia and was teaching in an Australian noninternational school. In
turn, Mei had left the Philippines and worked in an international school in Malaysia as an
expatriate teacher. She explained,
I left the Philippines because of that because I was thinking I wanted to be a class teacher
again, and if I remain here, I cannot. …You look to other [HCN] teachers and say to
[yourself], how can I do the same work for what they’re getting [the low salary]? And I
Raya had moved overseas and was setting up a private business:
I don’t want to be treated like second class because I know what that is like. I’ve been
doing it for over 20 years, I know what it feels like in my soul, in my bones. I’m just tired
and exhausted.
Soha had moved to the US to teach in an international school without HCN and
expatriate divisions. Saghar, who had only 10 years of experience, was still teaching but desired
to move. She shared, “To be honest, I have thought of quitting teaching. I am trying to turn into a
full researcher. …I find [HCN] teachers to be underpaid and overworked.”
Perhaps the cost of compromise for career building and social capital can be initially
borne, as evidenced by the younger participants in this study. However, after 10 years, the HCN
teachers could no longer reconcile the differences in treatment of HCN and expatriate staff, with
the moral cost of doing so becoming too great a burden. As a result, they eventually left the
international school, their country, or the teaching profession altogether. Soha explained, “Yeah,
I left the country [Lebanon] because I knew there was no future for me.”
This qualitative phenomenological study included 10 HCN participants from eight
countries in the Global South to answer the research question, What are the lived work
experiences and perceptions of HCN teachers employed or recently employed in international
schools utilizing a split-salary scale? Recorded online interviews with each participant
underwent transcription, coding, and categorization, resulting in the themes of power, othering,
and the cost of compromise.
Explanations for why HCNs work in international schools despite the split-salary
environment were the subthemes of career-building, gaining social capital, and marginally higher
salaries than local schools. A feeling of powerless, the perpetuation of the norm, and
stakeholders’ resistance to change showed that the schools have not changed.
Subthemes of branding (the West as superior), colonialism, Whiteness, and expatriate
privilege emerged strongly, perhaps not due to split salaries but certainly connected to the
inequity. These results suggested that split salaries were inequitable and symptoms of a broader
systematic problem related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in international schools.
The data suggested that effects on teachers were lower morale and motivation, and they
felt that as non-White and nonexpatriate teachers, they needed to prove themselves repeatedly.
These impacts led to a lack of diversity and fairness in international schools represented in this
study and, finally, the opportunity cost as HCN left their schools, their countries, or the
education profession. Figure 4.3 shows the links between power, privilege, colonialism, and
Whiteness and the relationship to split salaries, resulting in lower morale and motivation and
reduced representation.
Figure 4.3
Systematic Impartiality in International Schools
Note: Decreased motivation, decreased morale, and increased turnover of HCN teachers create a
positive feedback cycle with lower diversity, less representation for HCN students, and a less-
positive school climate, with each exacerbating the others.
Power and privilege in
international schools
Whiteness, colonialism,
and expatriate privilege
Split salaries
HCNs experience
powerlessness, injustice,
and unfairness
are factors of
can lead to
Western branding and
may increase
can lead to
results in
Lower diversity, less
representation for HCN
students, negative impact
on school climate
Decreased motivation,
decreased morale, and
increased turnover of
HCN teachers.
Chapter V: Conclusions
“People are reaping benefits from this system, right, so why would they shake it up?”
Raya, Study Participant, 2021
The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the phenomenon
of split salaries in international schools from the lived experiences and perspectives of HCN
teachers to better understand the effect on their experiences in those schools. The study used
Rawls’ (1991) theory of justice as fairness as a lens in which to examine this topic.
The participants were 10 HCN teachers from around the world with various
qualifications, experiences, and pathways into teaching who had worked at different types of
international schools and experienced a split salary based on their nationality. Each participant
underwent an individual interview through an online platform of their preference. The interviews
followed a semistructured format designed to elicit thick, rich descriptions of their experiences
and perceptions of the phenomenon of living and working within a split-salary environment in
international schools around the world.
Each interview underwent audio or video recording, transcribing, member checking by
the participants, and coding. After coding and collating all data, I developed a list of the codes
identified across the data set. From this data set, the themes and subthemes emerged inductively.
This study included interviews with participants from Colombia, Indonesia, Iran,
Lebanon, Malaysia, the Philippines, and central Africa. The findings revealed that split salaries
were present in the international schools represented by the study’s participants from countries
primarily in the Global South. HCN teachers often receive three to five times less salary than
their expatriate colleagues for the same work. Contrary to what the literature suggested (Khalil,
2019; Winchip, 2017), the data also showed the presence of split-salary environments in Type A
(traditional), Type B (ideological), and Type C (nontraditional, typically for-profit) international
Despite the split-salary environment, the HCN participants worked in international
schools for career-building, social capital, and marginally higher salaries and better conditions
than those offered by their respective local schools. A pattern emerged that later in HCN
teachers’ careers, these reasons to live with the inequity were no longer valid or important; as a
result, the more experienced teachers begin to think about moving on. All participants described
feeling powerless because they did not like and could not change the norm. Although they had
become friends with some expatriate teachers, the expats also lacked the power to effect change.
All participants in the study experienced stakeholder resistance to changing a compensation
environment they perceived as unjust.
Rawls’ (1999) theory of justice served as a theoretical framework to examine the
phenomenon of split salaries based on nationality. Rawls’ second principle of justice is that
“social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably
expected to be to everyone’s advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all” (p.
53). The participants said that expatriate salary scales were not accessible to HCNs and thus not
fair or just, as defined by Rawls. Unequal distributions of wealth and income must be to
everyone’s advantage, with positions of authority and responsibility accessible to everyone. The
schools described by the participants were not using the second Rawlsian principle of holding
positions of responsibility open to all or arranging all social and economic inequalities so that
everyone benefits.
International schools brand themselves on the idea that Western education is superior to
the local alternative (Bunnell & Atkinson, 2020). This branding can perpetuate a broader neo-
colonialism attitude in international schools, which, in turn, leads to expatriate and White
privilege (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020). The study’s results showed that split salaries are
inequitable but perhaps also reflective of a broader systematic problem in international schools
and their communities related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.
All participants experienced injustice, which led to lower morale and motivation. They
felt that as non-White and nonexpatriate teachers, they needed to prove themselves repeatedly; in
contrast, their expatriate colleagues received promotions and better pay, with their voices heard
over HCNs’. The environments that facilitate White expatriate voices lead to a lack of diversity
and equity in international schools (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020). Finally, there is an opportunity
cost to the school communities as HCNs leave their teaching positions, countries, or profession.
Discussion of the Findings
The first modern international schools opened in 1924 (Hughes, 2020). The International
School of Geneva began in the service of the League of Nations for the children of expatriates
and diplomats, and Yokohama International School emerged in the aftermath of World War I for
the children of military personnel stationed in Japan. International schools’ legacy shows the
origins of elitism, with the institutions founded by and catered to outsiders. The power belongs to
expatriates on the boards and leadership teams of the schools, with Anglo-Americans
overrepresented in Type A (traditional) and Type B (ideological) schools (Gardner-McTaggart,
The exponential increase in international schools in the last 2 decades is primarily from
Type C (nontraditional) schools, which are for-profit and is driven by the number of aspirational
parents wanting an advantage for their children (Hayden & Thompson, 2013). Catering largely to
affluent, professional, and well-educated families globally mobile or otherwise, international
schools present a class advantage for the global middle class (Hayden & Thompson, 2013; Tarc
& Tarc, 2015). Type C schools are either locally owned or for-profit multischool groups and
partnerships of branded British, American, or Australian schools that also tend to use Anglo-
American leadership, where the power resides (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020).
Eight of the 10 participants revealed that they were unaware of the expatriate differential
before working in their international schools. They perceived that the culture of not speaking
about salaries helped hide the pay discrepancies from all stakeholders. Reasons participants gave
for continuing to work in the split-salary environment despite their unhappiness were building
their careers, including gaining social capital by working with expatriates and earning slightly
more at international schools than at local alternatives.
After learning about salary differentials at their schools, the HCNs who complained faced
resistance to change from school boards, senior leadership, and expatriate colleagues. Although
some of those colleagues were friends, they either did not have the power to effect change or
supported performative action only. According to Rawls (1999), institutions can be just only if
they allow the opportunity of benefits for all. Rawls noted,
The intuitive idea is that since everyone’s well-being depends upon a scheme of
cooperation without which no one could have a satisfactory life, the division of
advantages should be such as to draw forth the willing cooperation of everyone taking
part in it, including those less well situated. (p. 13)
Rawls identified a connection between acting justly and natural attitudes of wanting to be fair to
friends and providing justice to individuals they cared for. However, acting justly toward only
those to whom individuals are devoted and bound by affection and fellowship is not sufficient. In
a fair and effective society, these bonds need to extend more widely to all. Rawls continued,
Thus, in a well-ordered society where effective bonds are extensive both to persons and
to social forms, and we cannot select who is to lose by our defections, there are strong
grounds for preserving one’s sense of justice. Doing this protects in a natural and simple
way the institutions and persons we care for and leads us to welcome new and broader
social ties. (p. 500)
Another significant theme that emerged from this study was othering. Branding
themselves as international means international schools need to show they are better than the
others. Competition can lead schools to draw upon the historical legacy of British or American
education, feeding into the concept of “West is bestand community neo-colonial perceptions in
many Global South countries (Gardner-McTaggart, 2020).
With expatriates often placed or perceived as more desirable educators, the participants in
this study reported having to reconcile with working in an environment that perceives them as
second-class citizens. The theory of justice presents this situation as an accident of birth.
Expatriate teachers do not necessarily deserve better wages and benefits based on their place of
birth, a factor they cannot change (Rawls, 1999). The participants described levels of desired
nationalities, with stratification minimizing HCNs’ voices and opportunities for professional
development and promotion and creating an imbalance in international schools’ leadership.
Some international schools only hire expatriate teachers, resulting in less diversity (Hughes,
2020). Participants suggested that the imbalance of nationalities means HCN students will not
have representation in their teachers or school administration, implicitly suggesting that HCNs
are valuable only for lower-paid, nonleadership roles.
Amid an ongoing need to compromise, HCN teachers felt a constant need to prove
themselves as capable educators. The participants felt that schools always perceived expatriate
teachers as good teachers, regardless of the expatriate’s actual ability or capability. In contrast,
the HCN teachers felt they routinely had to prove they were qualified and highly skilled
educators. The participants’ perception was that as residents of their country, HCN teachers are
generally more committed to long-term tenure in schools than many expatriates, who are much
more susceptible to regular turnover. However, the international schools do not appear to
recognize or address the situation. HCNs’ continual need to prove themselves leads to reduced
HCN morale and motivation. The data in this study showed that after 10 years, most HCN
teachers could no longer justify working in a split-salary system they could not change. The
inability to reconcile working in and tacitly supporting an unjust environment led HCN teachers
to leave their schools, leave their countries, or change their careers.
Rawls’ (1999) social justice framework indicated how to structure governments and
social institutions to safeguard individual liberties, social equality, and justice to distribute
fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation.
Rawls (2001) warned that in a just society, these rights cannot be subject to bargaining or the
vagaries of supply and demand. Although people with different nationalities in international
schools can command different salaries due to their social circumstances, these inequalities are
unjust (Rawls, 2001). The first principle in the theory of justice is, “Each person is to have an
equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar
system of liberty for all” (Rawls, 1999, p. 220). By perpetuating inequality, international schools
do not full their missions of global citizenship (Hughes, 2020); thus, according to Rawls (2001),
they are not just institutions.
Individuals offer qualifications, responsibilities, expertise, and value to their schools;
thus, salaries can represent that value offered (Rawls, 2001). However, when expatriate salaries
are significantly higher than HCNs’ with qualification based solely on a passport from an Anglo-
American country, schools violate Rawls’ (1999) framework for justice as fairness, creating
injustice for HCNs (Tarc & Mishra Tarc, 2015). When experiencing injustice, HCNs could find a
drop in morale and lower job satisfaction, leading to increased turnover, lower motivation, and a
reluctance to contribute to expatriate success (Mahajan, 2009).
By using Rawls’ (1999) theory of justice as the theoretical framework for this study, I
found the themes did not show justice or fairness. Rawls stated,
In justice as fairness society is interpreted as a cooperative venture for mutual advantage.
The basic structure is a public system of rules defining a scheme of activities that leads
men to act together so as to produce a greater sum of benefits and assigns to each certain
recognized claims to a share in the proceeds. (pp. 73–74)
The themes of power, othering, and the cost of compromise were at odds with the theory of
justice and supported Rawls’ warnings against an unjust school and society. The themes drawn
from participant interviews indicated that not all HCNs received the available advantages, such
as salary, voice, and positions of responsibility.
Rawls (1999) used the theoretical veil of ignorance and original position as a hypothetic
device to illustrate how people would choose the rules of a society or institution to operate fairly
for all. Rawls stated, “For our problem is how society should be arranged if it is to conform to
principles that rational persons with true general beliefs would acknowledge in the original
position(p. 480). However, it is not just self-interest that would cause people to choose fair and
just rules. “There is the reason connected with the Kantian interpretation: acting justly is
something we want to do as free and equal rational beings(p. 86). The schools described in this
study did not meet these conditions of justice.
All study participants were careful to let me know that some of their expatriate colleagues
were highly professional, experienced, and stellar teachers. From their words, I realized two
things. First, despite my efforts to be a researcher practicing epoché, I was still a middle-aged
Caucasian male educator, and perhaps they felt the need to guard their responses to avoid
offense. As a researcher, I could practice epoché in the interviews, but I could not change the
person in front of the interviewees. Although I tried to listen intently and encourage their voices
and their truth, at times, I felt the participants checked their words, minimized the message or
frustration, or remembered that I was one of the people behind the problem. There is no reason to
think that their words were not genuine; however, my ethnicity and demographics could have
made them temper their words at times.
Second, by listening to what was not said, I noticed that when HCNs identified some
expatriate teachers as professional, culturally competent, and friendly colleagues, others were
likely not inclusive, close-minded, and not internationally minded. An example of this is Raya’s
email after member checking, in which she concluded, “I will finish off by saying there are many
wonderful expat teachers who are truly inclusive, open-minded, international-minded, kind,
generous, wonderful human beings, some whom I have had a pleasure to meet.” This sentiment
was apparent with every participant. In various ways, each tried to reassure me that not all
expatriate teachers were culturally insensitive and resistant to change or exhibiting their
During data collection, I heard from several expatriate teachers who did not want me to
publish the study because they saw it as a threat to their salaries and benefits. One expatriate
teacher wrote that my research would be “biased and not support reality”; two complained that I
was neglecting the injustice of locally hired expatriate teachers not receiving the same benefits as
overseas hired expatriates. A school owner also contacted me to present information showing
why he had to employ split salaries to keep his school profitable. As these people did not meet
the eligibility criteria, I politely declined their assistance.
Recommendations for Practice
One recommendation for practice is that schools review their alignment with their stated
missions and actions regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. Some international
schools have appointed diversity coordinators and committees to review their practices and
commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. An example of effective practice is the
International School of Dakar (ISD; n.d.), which created a diversity and inclusion action plan.
The website states,
The ISD Board’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, comprised of board members,
administrators, faculty members, students, and parents, has created an action plan which
outlines the next steps in making real and lasting change at ISD. This is a living
document that will continue to be updated periodically. Included with each action item
are the timelines, people responsible, and status. We will use this document to provide
accountability and transparency to the community as we move forward. (para. 3)
Branding schools as international contributes to the narrative that international is better than
national. International schools could explore refocusing on global education rather than
international education as a longer-term solution to concept that international schools represent a
better option just because they are international.
Another recommendation is that international schools examine their compensation
philosophies. Understandably, expatriate compensation needs to include enticements to assist in
recruitment and retention; however, these should be more transparent and separate from salaries
and positions of responsibility that include HCN staff consideration. Tyvand (2017)
recommended that international schools consider tuition waivers. One participant echoed this
sentiment, reporting that she was primarily happy in her school because her daughters received a
free, quality education. Examining compensation strategies may also include a more widespread
adoption of localization strategies to expatriate compensation in line with Mahajan’s (2011)
Expatriate recruitment can be challenging. However, the practice of hiring a less-
qualified expatriate over a more-qualified HCN could serve the school’s marketing needs but not
its pedagogical needs. Schools need to consider how hiring more marketable but less qualified
staff best serves all their students and adjust accordingly.
Finally, international school administrators need to have meaningful conversations with
parents about teacher quality. As the customers driving the preference for English-speaking
expatriates, parents should recognize that a well-qualified HCN teacher can be just as good as
or better than—many expatriate teachers. Parents also need to know that representation matters,
and a balanced and diverse staff will contribute to a more robust education for their children.
Recommendations for Future Research
Given the lack of literature on split salaries in international schools, further research on
this topic would be welcome. This study presented the voices of HCN teachers who experienced
working in international schools with split salaries. Tyvand (2017) recommended that qualitative
research come first, with the findings guiding quantitative studies on split salaries in international
The HCN teachers in this study were highly qualified. Researching non-English speakers
could indicate new aspects or themes not identified in this study. Although this study focused on
HCN teachers, there is considerable opportunity for research into TCN teachers’ experiences in
international schools who receive lower wages than expatriates. Many HCN teachers leave their
countries to work overseas in international schools as TCNs. Why HCNs choose this path and
the experiences they observe as non-Anglo-Americans in schools with a preference for Anglo-
American teachers could be illuminating, expanding the occasional references by this study’s
Another recommendation is to conduct more research on the experiences and perceptions
of different types of expatriate teachers, as not all receive the same salaries and benefits. This
recommendation is in line with Tyvand (2017), who identified an area of potential research in the
experiences of categories of expatriate teachers in international schools utilizing a split salary.
A final recommendation for further study would be for a case study. Given the school
owners’ and directors’ interest in this study, conducting a case study to explore several
stakeholders’ voices from one site could show motivations or perceptions not uncovered in this
This study had a few limitations. First, due to language restrictions, participation was
limited to English-speaking teachers, narrowing the range of the sample. Second, international
schools serving other nationalities (e.g., Chinese, French, Japanese, and German) are smaller in
number and outside the scope of this study. Although I hoped to attract a diverse sample of HCN
teachers for the study, the 10 participants were highly educated and experienced.
Although the practice of split-salary scales appears to be extensive, not all international
schools use differentiated compensation models. For example, some international schools do not
have split-salary scales, but they do not hire HCN teachers or teachers of color (Hughes, 2021b).
While the topic of HCN lost opportunity and HCN teachers being excluded from employment at
some international schools is worthy of research, this study did not focus directly on exclusion or
lost opportunities for HCN teachers and teachers of color.
Another limitation was the study’s focus on teachers and not leadership. The Council of
International Schools (2020) identified some gender and equity gaps in salaries for international
school leaders. Thus, studies on gender gaps and ethnic gaps in leaders are worthy of further
The research question guiding this study was, What are the lived work experiences and
perceptions of HCN teachers employed in international schools utilizing a split-salary scale? The
participants’ lived work experiences and perceptions were feelings of powerlessness, injustice,
and unfairness. The split salaries led to decreased motivation, decreased morale, and increased
turnover. If international schools want to adhere to their missions and be truly diverse, equitable,
inclusive, and just, they must examine the current economic models that justify split salaries and
find alternatives or mitigations.
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Appendix A: Gatekeeper Letter
Hi [insert name],
I hope all is well and thank you for your time.
I am a doctoral candidate at Wilkes University, and I am in the process of planning to
research and write a dissertation about the ethnic gap in international school salaries, specifically
those schools that have a different salary schedule for expatriate teachers versus local teachers.
Does your company have many local teachers or host-country nationals in your database?
If so, I hope to request your assistance finding suitable people to interview for my study by
posting or emailing a call for participants and allowing them to contact me directly. Suggested
text for the call to participants is below.
Appendix B: Call for Participants via Email
Dear Teachers,
Liam Hammer is a doctoral candidate at Wilkes University and wants to interview a
number of local staff for a study about the ethnic gap in international schools and the
phenomenon in which some schools pay different salaries based on their teachers’ nationality
(mainly expat staff vs. local staff).
I am looking for local teachers interested in sharing their views about this phenomenon in
a confidential interview. There will be no compensation or reward for participating, and your
participation will remain completely confidential. I am hopeful that the results of this proposed
study will inform international school administrators of your views about this phenomenon and
allow them to consider potential changes in the future.
If you are a local teacher working at an international school that has different salaries for
local and overseas hired staff and you would like to help with this study, please contact Liam via
email at, and he can give you more information about the time
commitment, eligibility requirements, confidentiality, and other required details.
Appendix C: Call for Participants via Social Media Post
Local teachers: Do you want to participate in a study to share your experience of split
salaries in international schools?
Liam Hammer is a doctoral candidate at Wilkes University with an interest in the
phenomenon of split salaries (different pay scales) in international schools, where local staff
receive significantly less pay than expatriate staff. If you teach in an international school, are
classed as a local teacher, and work at an international school with a split-salary environment,
would you like to participate in the study? Contact Liam via email at
for more information about the time commitment, eligibility requirements, confidentiality, and
other required details.
Appendix D: Semistructured Interview Protocol
Interviewer: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me to share your impressions
and perceptions of the differences in salary scales for expatriate and local teachers in
international schools. I will ask you questions about your experiences. This process should last
45 minutes to 1 hour. You can choose not to answer any question you do not feel comfortable
with. Do you have any questions about this process? (Wait for any questions or clarifications.)
Interviewer: I will record our interview so that I can make a transcript afterward. Once
transcribed, I will send you a copy for you to review. Do I have your permission to begin
recording? (Wait for verbal consent to start recording.)
Interviewer: I will use a pseudonym for any names of people or places you mention, so
feel free to speak openly about your experiences.
Part 1: Teaching in International Schools
1.1 To begin, please tell me about your decision to become a teacher.
1.2 Tell me about your university experiences to become a teacher.
1.3 How did you end up working in an international school?
1.4 What were your experiences with international students or expatriate teachers prior
to working in your current school?
Part 2: Perceptions of Salaries in International Schools
2.1 Please explain how the structure of your school looks in terms of expats and locals,
the job that they do, the ratios of each, and so on?
2.2 Describe for me the differences or similarities of roles in which expatriates and local
staff are employed in your school.
2.3 When and how did you become aware that expatriates are paid differently than local
2.4 How widespread is the knowledge that expat and local salaries are significantly
different, and how did you come to know this?
2.5 What are your thoughts on why and how this difference exists?
2.6 Does your salary in an international school exceed that of wages in local schools?
2.7 In your opinion, is this difference justified, and can you tell me why you think that?
Part 3: Impacts of the Difference in Salaries
3.1 What impact does this difference have on local teachers? Could you share with me
some evidence that leads you to this perception?
3.2 What impact does this difference have on other community members, expatriate
teachers, students, parents? Could you share with me some evidence that leads you
to this perception?
3.3 Overall, what impact does this difference have on the school and school quality?
3.4 Does this difference impact morale, and if so, how?
3.5 Describe what a school would look, sound, and feel like if it did not have salary
differences and paid all teachers the same?
Part 4: Future intentions
4.1 Would you ever consider leaving your employment in this international school?
Please explain why or why not.
4.2 Will this difference influence you to switch to a different profession, and why?
4.3 Is there anything you would like to tell me that I have not asked about?
End of Discussion
Interviewer: Thank you very much for your time and your insights regarding salaries for
expatriate and local teachers in international schools. I will type a transcript of this discussion for
your review and send it to you to check accuracy and meaning. I would also like to invite you to
consider sending me some documents or artifacts (with identifying details removed). These
could be emails, policies, or even salary scales, anything you feel helps explain or enlighten your
situation more clearly for me.
Appendix E: Certificate of Social and Behavioral Research
Appendix F: Letter of Informed Consent
Wilkes University
School of Education
84 W. South Street Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766
Letter of Informed Consent
Title of Study: Exploring the Ethnic Gap in Salaries for International Schools
Principal Investigator: Mr. Liam Hammer
Phone: +6013 843 1508
Dear [insert name],
You are invited to participate in a research study conducted by Liam Hammer as a graduate
student as part of his dissertation study in an Educational Leadership program at Wilkes
University. Please read the information below and ask questions about anything you do not
understand before deciding to participate. If you agree to participate, you will be asked to sign
this form, and you will be given a copy of the document.
Background and Purpose of the Study: Many international schools have a disproportionately
high number of expatriate staff from the UK and US (Canterford, 2003, 2009; COBIS, 2020a)
compared to staff of different nationalities, and these expatriate teachers can be paid three to five
times more than the local staff, even when doing the same job (Canterford, 2003, 2009; Gaskell,
2019; Khalil, 2019; Perez-Amurao & Sunanta, 2020).
The purpose of this study is to collect stories of local staff’s perceptions of international schools
that pay local staff salaries lower than they pay expatriates for the same job.
Study Procedures, and Time Involvement: If you agree to participate, you will take part in an
interview about your perceptions of split salaries in international schools. Interviews will last
approximately 60 minutes and take place at a mutually acceptable time for the participant and
me. There may be a follow-up interview requested if additional questions arise during the
process. Interviews will take place online, and all will be recorded.
Benefits and Risks: There are no direct risks to your job or reputation associated with
participation in this study. Although there may be a risk of discomfort based on the topic, I will
make all effort to avoid causing distress, and you may choose not to answer any questions that
make you feel uncomfortable. You may also opt out of the study at any time if you are not
comfortable with the process.
This study may benefit future research on the topic of the split salaries in international schools,
which could one day help local school teachers if school administrators plan and implement
changes resulting from this study.
Confidentiality: This study will be confidential, meaning that no one can link the data you
provide to you or identify you as a participant. All data collected during the study will remain
anonymized and stored on a password-protected computer. Upon the study’s completion and the
dissertation’s publication using pseudonyms, there will be no identifying data, such as exact
locations or school names. There will be no data with identifiable information shared at any time.
The principal investigator will maintain a copy of your signed consent form for at least 3 years
after project completion before destroying it. The consent forms will remain in a secure location
to which only I access to and will not be affiliated with any data obtained during the project.
Participant’s Rights: Your participation is voluntary, and you have the right to withdraw your
consent or discontinue participation at any time without penalty or loss of benefits to which you
are entitled.
You can choose not to participate without consequence. However, the results of this research
could be useful to inform further study by the principal investigator. There is no future
compensation or payment to participants as a result of this study.
Contact Information: If you have any questions or concerns about this research study, contact
the principal investigator, Liam Hammer, at or +6013-843-1508. You
may also contact Dr. Warna Gillies, faculty representative supervising this research, by email at or phone at 01-703-798-5570.
If you have questions or concerns or feel your rights have been violated as a research participant,
you may contact the Institutional Research Board.
Statement of Consent: I have read the above information and agree to participate.
Signature ________________________________________________ Date _______________
Name (Print) _____________________________________________
"#$ I agree to be audio-recorded/video-recorded/photographed.
"#$ I do not agree to be audio-recorded/video-recorded/photographed.
Signature ________________________________________________ Date _______________
Name (Print) _____________________________________________
Appendix G: Teacher Correspondence Letter 1
Dear _________________,
Thanks so much for contacting me and being willing to speak to me. As I mentioned in
the call for participants email/post, I need to interview local teachers working in international
schools that use different salary scales based on nationality. If you fit the following criteria:
1. You are a local teacher,
2. You are working or have worked in an international or private school,
3. Your school does or did pay expat teachers much more than local teachers, and
4. You are not actively seeking a new job (to avoid any misunderstanding about gaining
a new job by engaging in this study),
then I can send you a consent form to sign to indicate that you consent to be interviewed, you
understand the benefits and risks of participating, and understand that you can withdraw your
consent at any time.
If you do not meet the four criteria or do not want to consent to the interview(s), thank
you for your time. If you have any questions, you can contact me at
Appendix H: Teacher Correspondence Letter 2 – Demographic Data
Dear _________________,
Thanks so much for your time and willingness to be interviewed. Prior to our interview, I
wonder if you could please assist me with some basic demographic details that may help me
discern patterns in the data. You do not need to complete any of these questions if you do not
feel comfortable answering them.
1. Country born in:
Second nationality (if applicable):
2. Countries where you have worked as a teacher:
Which of these countries had schools paying a different salary to locals and
expats (not including package items, such as housing, flights, or insurance)?
How many years of experience as a teacher do you have?
3. Education:
What degrees/certificates have you earned?
Are they in education?
Which country are these qualifications from?
Please remember to consider sending me some copies of documents or artifacts that
might help illuminate the reasons and justifications for or impact expatriate-versus-local teacher
salary differences before our interview; however, this is not compulsory.
Thank you very much in advance.
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This chapter aims to outline the phenomenon known as split salaries in international schools. This qualitative phenomenological study explores the research question, What are the lived work experiences and perceptions of host country national (HCN) teachers employed in international schools utilizing a split-salary scale? Rawls' theory of justice as fairness served as the theoretical framework to answer the research question. Ten HCN teachers took part in one-on-one, semi-structured interviews. Three key themes emerged—power, othering, and the cost of compromise—as national teachers struggle to reconcile working in an environment that implicitly suggests they will never be good enough. This research can inform administrators and school owners that international schools should no longer be bastions of privilege and that using a purely business approach to staffing does not align with international school missions.