The academic world has traditionally been considered a realm of pure scholarship virtually free from temptations to abuse administrative power and control more often seen in the political or business sectors.
However, duty-related offences committed by college and university teaching staff have become a growing problem in recent years, mostly involving corruption and bribery in student enrollment and capital construction, the People's Daily reported on April 17.
The problem is particularly severe in the capital city of Beijing and provinces of Shaanxi, Hubei, and Sichuan where colleges and universities are centralized, the newspaper reported.
Records from the Haidian District Court of Beijing show, between 2004 and 2006, it handled 20 criminal cases involving 28 teaching staff. These cases came from 14 colleges and universities, with the maximum amount involved in a single case being 1 million yuan (US$129,473).
The most alarming statistic is the rate of growth, with one person involved in 2004, six people in four cases in 2005, and 21 people in 15 cases in 2006.
Statistics released by Xinhua News Agency indicate that during the period of 2003-05, central China's Wuhan municipal procuratorial organs investigated 41 cases involving 46 teaching staff in local colleges and universities. Of these, 39 percent were related to project tenders, 33 percent to equipment purchases, 15 percent to student enrollment, and 13 percent to financial administration.
Li Jinhe, former vice president of Hubei University and general manger of the university's Logistics Industrial Group, was sentenced to 13-year imprisonment in December 2006 for taking bribes of almost 1 million yuan from project developers and contractors between January 1998 and October 2004.
Liu Qitai, vice president of the Tonji Medical College under Huazhong University of Science & Technology, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in December 2003 for taking bribes of more than 222,000 yuan (US$28,743) from business partners.
Guo Xueli, dean of the School of E-Education of Wuhan University, was sentenced to three years with a five-year reprieve in January 2005 for accepting bribes of more than 300,000 yuan (US$38,842) from network project contractors and Internet service providers.
People's Daily also provided examples from southwest China's Sichuan Province. In 2004, a series of textbook purchase corruption cases were uncovered involving 36 teaching staff in 13 colleges and universities and a total of 12 million yuan (US$1.55 million).
Educational experts say many loopholes exist in colleges and universities because of centralization of power and confusion in teaching material and equipment purchasing, assets management, and lack of financial transparency.
"A director of a university's asset management department has the power to independently examine and approve deals up to 1 million yuan each time," explained Zhou Xuebin, a division chief from the Hubei Provincial Department of Finance. "Although the financial department is responsible for examination and approval of the budget reports submitted by colleges and universities and the allocation of funds, the latter mainly decide themselves how to spend the money."
Professor Guo Zili with Peking University pointed out that the continuously enlarging scale of capital construction, disposable resources, and frequent participation in the market economy possibly have enriched the soil for corruption and crime in colleges and universities.
"Nowadays, they wield tremendous power in student enrolment, scientific training, teacher appointment, infrastructural construction, and equipment purchase. Meanwhile, necessary laws, regulations, and supervisory systems have not kept pace in a timely and effective way, and this 'abnormal' situation is the crux of the problem," he said.
Colleges and universities have become a huge economic activity participator, which should be placed under intensive supervision and control, Prof. Guo argued, adding, "With the enlargement of their decision-making powers, it is vital to establish a sound and effective supervisory system to manage investment operations and 'purify' the campus investment environment."
The newspaper revealed that Hubei plans to issue a provisional regulation on management of state assets in provincial colleges and universities. It stipulates that provincial educational and financial departments will work together on school asset allocation decisions and limit the amount available for free choice. Asset allocation of colleges and universities must be reported to the provincial educational and financial departments for examination and approval. The state-asset management department of colleges and universities must organize purchases in a unified way, and asset-usage units, financial and auditing departments participate in evaluation, investigation and tenders together.
There are more than 70 colleges and universities in Hubei Province with assets valued at nearly 20 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion), according to local statistics. It is not enough to conduct daily supervision and management by depending only on administrative power, hence it is necessary to establish a supervisory system composed of various social sectors, experts suggest.
"Corruption and duty-related offences committed by college and university teaching staff cause more than just financial losses," stressed Gao Jinzhang, an official from the Hubei Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC. "More importantly, they exert a bad influence on students and this has a direct bearing on the future of the country."
(China.org.cn by Li Jingrong, April 23, 2007)