Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Education Rife with Bribery ; in China, Everything from Classroom Seating to Grades Is Up for Sale

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Education Rife with Bribery ; in China, Everything from Classroom Seating to Grades Is Up for Sale

Article excerpt

China's state-run education system, promoted as the hallmark of Communist meritocracy, is being overrun by bribery and cronyism. Everything, from admission to classroom seating to grades, is for sale.

For Chinese children and their devoted parents, education has long been seen as the key to getting ahead in a highly competitive society. But just as money and power grease business deals and civil servant promotions, the academic race is increasingly rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected, who pay large sums and use connections to give their children an edge at government-run schools.

Nearly everything has a price, parents and educators say, from school admissions and placement in top classes to leadership positions in Communist youth groups. Even front-row seats near the blackboard or a post as class monitor are up for sale.

Zhao Hua, a migrant from Hebei Province who owns a small electronics business in Beijing, said she was forced to deposit 30,000 renminbi, or $4,800, into a bank account to enroll her daughter in a Beijing elementary school. At the bank, she said, she was stunned to encounter officials from the district education committee armed with a list of students and how much each family had to pay. They made her sign a document saying the fee was a voluntary "donation."

"Of course I knew it was illegal," she said. "But if you don't pay, your child will go nowhere."

Bribery has become so rife that Xi Jinping devoted his first speech after being named the Communist Party's new leader to warning the Politburo that corruption could lead to the collapse of the party and the state if left unchecked.

Ordinary Chinese have become inured to a certain level of official malfeasance in business and politics. But the lack of integrity among educators and school administrators is especially dispiriting, said Li Mao, an educational consultant in Beijing. "It's much more upsetting when it happens with teachers, because our expectations of them are so much higher," he said.

Affluent parents around the world commonly seek to provide their children every advantage, of course, including paying for tutors and test preparation courses, and sometimes turning to private schools willing to accept wealthy students despite poor grades.

But critics say China's state-run education system -- promoted as the hallmark of Communist meritocracy -- is being overrun by bribery and cronyism. Such corruption has broadened the gulf between the haves and have-nots as Chinese families see their hopes for the future sold to the highest bidder.

"Corruption is pervasive in every part of Chinese society, and education is no exception," Mr. Li said.

The racket begins even before the first day of school, as the competition for admission to elite schools has spawned a lucrative side business for school officials and those connected to them.

Each spring, the Clean China Kindergarten, which is affiliated with the prestigious Tsinghua University and located on its manicured campus in Beijing, receives a flood of requests from parents who see enrollment there as a conduit into one of China's best universities. Officially, the school is open only to children of Tsinghua faculty. But for the right price -- about 150,000 renminbi, according to a staff member who insisted on anonymity to avoid retaliation -- a Tsinghua professor can be persuaded to "sponsor" an applicant.

Parents with less direct connections have to bribe a chain of people for their child to enroll in the kindergarten. "The more removed you are from the school, the more money you need," the staff member said. "It can really add up."

A school official refused to discuss tuition costs but denied that outsiders could pay their way in.

The payoffs increase as college gets closer. The Chinese news media reported recently that the going bribery rate for admission to a high school linked to the renowned Renmin University in Beijing is now 500,000 to 800,000 renminbi. …

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