Privately-owned Schools Need Support

China's privately-owned colleges have experienced a significant development since the mid-1990s but they are confronted with great challenges ahead, according to an article in the Beijing Review.

At present, there are more than 1,000 privately-owned colleges across the country, 55 of which are qualified to issue diplomas with the authorization of the Ministry of Education. However, ministry officials claim the number of colleges in this category will increase.

This year, regular universities and colleges throughout China recruited 1.8 million students, with the admission rate averaging 49 per cent. Among the students not admitted to State universities and colleges, many will choose privately-owned colleges.

Tuition fees at privately-owned colleges fall between 2,000 yuan (US$250) and 3,000 yuan (US$375) a term. Many privately-owned colleges primarily rely on roll-over funds for development, and this mainly comes from fees paid by students.

Therefore, schools with few students can barely sustain normal teaching and routine expenses.

Compared with government-subsidized colleges that have no worries about the source of their students, privately-owned schools have huge concerns over the issue.

Zhang Huili, president of the Zhendan Further Education College, said, besides the emphasis on education quality, absorbing more students and expanding the scale of education are of great importance for the growth of privately-owned schools.

In the face of pressure resulting from continuously enlarging recruitment drives by government-funded universities and colleges, as well as the continuous zeal to study abroad, many privately-owned colleges suffer a shortage of students. Meanwhile, policy restrictions have added to their difficulties.

For example, Peizheng Business College in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, is a privately-owned college for training practical business personnel. With a fine reputation in Guangdong, it now has more than 3,000 students. It did well in its recruitment drives of 1998 and 1999 but things changed last year.

Ruan Qingsheng, vice-president of Peizheng, said last year there were 10,000 less students taking the national college entrance examination, and even some government-funded colleges did not fulfill their goal of enlarged recruitment.

The problem is, even with an inadequate source of students in Guangdong, the colleges were not allowed to recruit students from other provinces. Consequently, their plan to recruit 2,000 students fell through, and only managed to recruit 1,000, leaving one teaching building vacant, according to Ruan.

But Peizheng, compared with other privately-owned colleges in Guangdong, was not so badly off, Ruan continued. Peizheng can run normally when it recruits 1,000 students, and can develop when it recruits 1,500 students.

However, Ruan said: "I cannot understand why we are not allowed to recruit students from other provinces who gain relatively high scores."

Zhang Tieming, a researcher at the Guangzhou Modern Education Institute, said, compared with the past, privately-owned schools now enjoy a much wider policy but it is far from enough.

Another problem plaguing privately-owned colleges is the shortage of high-quality teachers. Generally speaking, retired teachers from government-funded colleges and part-time teachers comprise the main staff.

A survey on several privately-owned colleges in Beijing indicated that retired teachers make up more than 70 per cent of the staff, and part-time teachers nearly 30 per cent.

On one hand, these teachers have a relatively high level of education and professional ranking. Retired teachers are well experienced and, therefore, can help maintain a relatively high quality of teaching. But on the other hand, aging and casual staff with a knowledge structure and education concepts that badly need innovation, impose a great challenge to the long-term development of privately-owned colleges.

Recently, Jiangxi, Henan and many other provinces put forward regulations to help privately-owned colleges flourish. The provinces stipulate that government-funded and privately-owned colleges are permitted to exchange teachers, and teachers in privately-owned colleges should enjoy the same treatment as their peers in government-funded colleges, in terms of the working hours as a teacher, qualification certification, in-service training and the granting of professional titles.

On a positive note, foreign investment has started infiltrating China's privately-owned colleges, and big cities with a relatively large concentration of such establishments have become the focus of such foreign investment.

In some places, Sino-foreign joint colleges have been established. To date, foreign parties in such jointly run colleges are mainly commercial companies, institutions of higher learning and associations for cultural exchanges from the United States, Australia and Singapore, with an investment usually ranging from several million to tens of millions of US dollars.

Some parents said, so long as the quality of teaching is guaranteed, Sino-foreign joint colleges would be more attractive to them than existing privately-owned colleges and even some second-class regular colleges.

An expert in research on education in private schools pointed out that some policies must be revised so they can meet the needs of Sino-foreign joint schools and promote the development of jointly-run schools.

Meanwhile, such schools should be put under closer supervision and management. Some foreign investors are actually not qualified to run a school, according to the article.

Foreign investment's entry into China's educational undertakings brings about challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, Chinese colleges can borrow advanced educational systems, teaching methods and managerial experience from other countries. On the other hand, competition in the educational market becomes more intense, and some privately-owned schools of low quality with no distinct characteristics will, ultimately, be eliminated.

(Beijing Review 09/03/2001)

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