China to target bribery culture

October 29, 2004

The Chinese Government is expected to announce harsh penalties for faculty who take bribes to admit prospective students after a scandal earlier this summer revealed a culture of corruption.

The Education Ministry is expected to restate existing guidelines with harsher, more defined penalties for misconduct, but the level of enforcement is not expected to rise. The Government may be hoping that increased competition will encourage universities to keep their own houses in order.

In August, China Central Television reported that three faculty members of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics tried to extort 100,000 yuan (£6,600) from the father of a prospective female student from Guangxi province, threatening to exclude her.

Two BUAA academics were dismissed, a third was suspended and the head of admissions was suspended for neglecting his duties.

An inquiry revealed that the three academics had already obtained at least 550,000 yuan from the families of seven students in Guangxi this summer.

Li Wei, BUAA president, publicly apologised, saying: "I hope the scandal in Guangxi is an isolated incident."

The Education Ministry issued a warning about charging for college admissions and the possible penalties for universities.

However, the lack of relevant laws is one of the reasons for the corruption, according to Lao Kaisheng, head of Beijing Normal University's Institute of Educational Policy and Law. "There are no laws and regulations that correspond to education," he said.

Admissions corruption is also blamed on overeager parents, some of whom don't wait to be asked before offering bribes to admissions officials.

The BUAA incidents appear to be the tip of the iceberg. The People's Daily newspaper reported that the Xi'an Conservatory of Music had asked for 30,000 yuan from each student it enrolled, threatening to withdraw their admission notices.

The incidents indicate weaknesses in the system, including lack of transparency and supervision, lax management and poor quality of staff.

University insiders say there have long been irregular practices in national university admission procedures.

An Yang, a former national university admissions administrator, said the system suffered from "hidden" corruption. He said: "Accepting a bribe is very common in admissions work, but the bribe might not always involve cash. It has been an open secret in all universities that the admissions job is a lucrative post."

Some officials have their dining and travel expenses paid by the parents of enrolled students, and others are known to demand expensive gifts.

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