Monday, November 26, 2012

Cash is king in Chinese Education

No equality even in an allegedly Communist country.  Inequality is natural and triumphs every time, not always admirably

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 here 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 here, said she was forced to deposit $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. Later, school officials 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 this month to warning the Politburo that corruption could lead to the collapse of the party and the state if left unchecked. Indeed, 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 in the United States and 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.

It begins even before the first day of school as the competition for admission to elite schools has created 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 situated 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, or about $24,000, according to a staff member who spoke on the condition of 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 be admitted to 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 denied that outsiders could pay their way in.

The costs can increase as college gets closer. 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 $80,000 to $130,000.

Government officials have also found a way to game the system. The 21st Century Business Herald, a state-run newspaper, reported that powerful agencies and state-owned enterprises frequently donated to top schools under what is known as a “joint development” policy. In exchange, education reformers say, the children of their employees are given an admissions advantage.

The same practice has been taken up by private companies that provide “corporate sponsorships” to top schools.

In China, education through junior high school is mandatory, and free, but the reality is often more complicated. As a child grows up, parents lacking connections must pay repeatedly for better educational opportunities. Across the country, such payments take the form of “school choice” fees that open the door to schools outside the district or town listed on a family’s official residency permit.

These illegal fees are especially onerous for the millions of struggling migrant workers who have moved to distant cites. The Ministry of Education and the State Council, China’s cabinet, have officially banned “school choice” and other unregulated fees five times since 2005, yet school officials and relevant government departments keep finding creative ways around the ban, allowing them to keep the cash flowing.

At some top-ranked high schools, students with low admission test scores can “buy” a few crucial points that put them over the threshold for admission. According to an unwritten but widely known policy at one elite Beijing high school, students receive an extra point for each $4,800 their parents contribute to the school. “All my classmates know about it,” said Polly Wang, 15, a student who asked that the school not be named to avoid repercussion.


New teacher training system in Britain designed to get smart teachers into sink schools

Another 2-year "training" course after a degree.  An extra two years relaxing in an undemanding educational environment must be attractive amid the dearth of jobs in Britain but, when the graduates face the classes they are supposed to teach, mere timeserving is to be expected in most cases

A multi-million-pound scheme to increase massively the number  of elite teachers parachuted into Britain’s toughest schools will be announced by the Government tomorrow.

The funding will help train 2,000 top graduates a year to teach in schools in inner cities and other deprived parts of the country.

The money, to be unveiled by Education Secretary Michael Gove, is the latest tranche granted by the Government to the charity Teach First, which was set up to woo high-flyers to swap lucrative City jobs for the classroom.

The Government said tens of thousands of children from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit because the charity operates only in schools where at least half the pupils come from the poorest third of families in England.

Mr Gove said: ‘The quality of teachers has a greater influence on children’s achievement than any other aspect of their education. Every pupil, regardless of their background, deserves high-quality teaching in order to succeed in life. Teach First helps get some of our brightest graduates into some of our most challenging classrooms. We are committed to supporting the charity in its efforts to reach more schools.’

Founded by former City business consultant Brett Wigdortz in 2002, Teach First takes on only high-calibre graduates who have a  2:1 degree or above and trainees must go through a rigorous assessment process and intensive two-year training programme.

So selective is the screening that many of the would-be teachers  are weeded out and Teach First approves only about 12 per cent of applicants. The organisation already takes on more than 1,000 graduates a year who want to avoid the traditional teacher-training path, and the new money, expected to be about £7 million, will almost double the numbers.

Already the biggest recruiter from Oxford and Cambridge, the charity will next year become Britain’s biggest graduate recruitment organisation. Trainees are required to stay in the classroom for only two years, and many sign up to hone skills, such as communication, that they believe will serve them well in future careers.

But more than half stay in teaching and the most inspirational are fast-tracked into senior roles.

Mr Wigdortz welcomed the new Government funding and said: ‘This support is vital to help us achieve our ambitious aim to ensure that no child’s educational success is limited by their socio-economic background.’

Though it began in London and spread to other cities, including Manchester, the charity is now expanding into coastal and rural schools suffering from disadvantages. The new grant, which takes Government support for Teach First to nearly £40 million, is part of Mr Gove’s plans to boost  education standards by attracting the brightest students into teaching.

In addition to the Teach First scheme, graduates with first-class degrees who specialise in subjects in which there is a shortage of teachers, such as maths and science, can be given financial incentives of up to £20,000 to train on conventional courses, and former soldiers are also being encouraged to sign up.

Meanwhile, the Government has said it will no longer fund the training of graduates who have obtained only a third-class degree. New figures show that more than seven out of ten new trainees now have at least a 2:1 – the highest proportion ever recorded.

The figures also show the quality of trainee teachers has improved in the core subjects where there have traditionally been shortages, including maths, physics, chemistry and modern foreign languages.


Britain being hit by rise in graduate 'brain drain'

The number of British students heading overseas for their first job has soared by a quarter in just three years amid fresh warnings over a graduate "brain drain".

Almost 5,200 university leavers sought employment in mainland Europe, the Far East and North America last year - up by 1,000 since the start of the economic crisis.

Official figures show that graduates from the very best universities are significantly more likely to be tempted overseas, prompting fears that Britain's most talented young people were being forced to look abroad for employment during the downturn.

Almost one-in-10 British graduates from institutions such as Cambridge, Durham, Exeter and Oxford who found jobs in 2011 were working overseas. The rate jumped to 12 per cent among British students from St Andrews.

Experts said that in some cases major international corporations were targeting students from the very best universities during annual "milk round" employment fairs.

Other students are securing jobs with multinationals based in Britain only to be posted overseas, it was claimed.

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, around four-in-10 graduates working abroad were based in Europe, but a fifth secured jobs in the Far East and 12 per cent were in North America.

The disclosure comes just weeks after a report from the Home Office revealed that almost half of all Britons who emigrate each year are professionals and company managed - threatening the country's supply of highly-skilled workers.

It was claimed that a "large and increasing" number of executives, scientists, academics and doctors have chosen to leave Britain over the last 20 years.

Last night, business leaders expressed alarm over the latest disclosure, insisting that many British companies were struggling to recruit high-quality graduates, particularly in areas such as science, engineering and maths.

Verity O'Keefe, employment adviser for the manufacturers' organisation EEF, said: "It is worrying that the UK is increasingly losing top graduate talent to competing countries. Having invested in students during their years of study, we need to be doing our utmost to keep hold of them.

"Employers offer lucrative employment deals and pay packages to secure the best talent. If this information is not being channelled to our young people at an early stage, then we need to be looking at more innovative ways of getting this message across.   "Four in five manufacturers are currently reporting recruitment problems, if we do not act to prevent these trends, this figure will undoubtedly rise."

HESA data shows the number of British students in jobs abroad six months after leaving university in 2011.   It emerged that 5,175 students were working overseas compared with 4,060 in 2008 - an increase of 27 per cent.

Some 210 students from Oxford and Cambridge were in jobs abroad - up 35 per cent on 2008. At other Russell Group universities, numbers increased from 1,595 to 2,030, reflecting the 27 per cent rise registered nationally.

Separate HESA figures showed a breakdown of British students working abroad after leaving each university.   On average, just 3.4 per cent of working graduates found jobs overseas, but the rate soared for those leaving Britain's best universities.  Some 1,345 Cambridge graduates from Britain were in employment after six months, including 115 working overseas - 8.6 per cent.

Gordon Chesterman, director of the careers service at Cambridge, said there had been a substantial increase in students taking up foreign language courses alongside their degrees, a possible sign of wanting to move abroad.

The overseas employment rate stood at 7.1 per cent at Bristol, 8.6 per cent at Durham, 8.4 per cent at Exeter, eight per cent at Oxford, 7.1 per cent at the London School of Economics, 10.5 per cent at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, 7.1 per cent at Aberdeen, 12 per cent at St Andrews and 10 per cent at Ulster University.

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: "It's not surprising that more graduates are finding work abroad when employers are offering fewer graduate level roles and jobseekers are being asked to jump through hoops like unaffordable internships in order to get any job."

Martin Birchall, Managing Director of High Fliers Research, which tracks the graduate jobs market, said a number of global companies targeted universities such as Oxbridge every year in an attempt to recruit the brightest talent.

He added that companies such as BP, Shell and HSBC - with extensive British bases - often recruited top graduates and put them to work in offices in other countries.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "Whilst graduates, like others, do of course suffer in recessions, they fare better than non-graduates, and their prospects tend to pick up more quickly during the recovery. And demand for more highly skilled employees in our economy continues to increase.  "It is encouraging that UK graduates are in demand globally, reflecting recognition of world class excellence in our universities' teaching and research."

A spokesman for St Andrews said: "We probably punch above our weight in international job markets because of our student demographic and the recognised quality of a St Andrews degree."

An Oxford spokesman insisted the figures for the university were skewed by an increase in the number of the university's graduates being included in HESA's data for 2011 compared with 2008, adding: "Only around seven to eight per cent of students choose to leave the UK for work in each of the last four years."


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