Private school owners are forced to hand over their institutions to the Chinese government


China politics and policy updates

As the impact of Beijing’s sudden education reform has caused waves across the country, more and more Chinese private school owners are forced to hand over their schools to the state.

According to public records and interviews by the Financial Times, in the past three months, the city government has taken over at least 13 for-profit primary and secondary schools and one high school without compensation.

“I have no choice,” said the boss of a school that handed it over to state controllers last week.

Official data show that there are nearly 190,000 private schools in China, educating more than 56 million people, accounting for one-fifth of all students. There are more than 12,000 primary and secondary schools.

Beijing wants Reduction ratio According to people familiar with the matter, the proportion of non-high school students attending for-profit schools will fall from more than 10% to less than 5% by the end of this year at the earliest.

“The top leaders do not believe that private schools serve the greater good,” said a government consultant based in Beijing. “Public education is indeed the case.”

100 billion U.S. dollars per year Private education industry Has been the most obvious victim of the gradual nationalization of China’s large for-profit education sector.

Beijing’s decision to ban private education among primary and middle school students for profit has caused the stock price of Chinese education companies to plummet, and its market value has shrunk billions of dollars. The annual income of the tutoring industry is expected to fall from 100 billion U.S. dollars to less than 25 billion U.S. dollars.

Since Beijing asked local governments to “rectify” their uncontrolled expansion in May, the problems of private property owners in junior and middle schools have become more acute.

“We must ensure that public schools are the main providers of compulsory education,” the central government issued a notice, adding that Beijing will encourage some for-profit schools to turn into public schools.

This Industry overhaul Raised concerns about infringement of private property rights. There are also concerns that these measures will undermine the quality of education, because many local governments that are short of funds cannot maintain the operation of previously well-managed private schools.

“Our industry does have a lot of problems, but state-led acquisitions are not the solution,” said Alex Lee, the owner of a middle school in Shandong Province in eastern China. He is also under pressure to transfer his business to the local education department.

After years of liberalization, education reform is a significant change. In the past 20 years, China’s private elementary schools have increased tenfold, with approximately 9.5 million students enrolled in 2019.

Children in a private school in the suburbs of Beijing

After Beijing asked local governments to “rectify” their uncontrolled expansion, the problems of private owners of junior and middle schools became more acute © EPA

Parent’s preference Private schools are more pronounced in rural areas, and they believe that lack of funds in public schools undermines education standards. In some counties, despite higher tuition fees, as many as half of students still receive private education.

“Private schools are generally better managed than public schools because the former relies on good performance to attract students,” said Liu Qian, a marketing director based in Beijing.

As a child, Liu moved from a state-sponsored rural school in a nearby county to a private middle school in the central city of Changsha. “If I don’t make changes, I can’t go to college,” he said.

However, Beijing is increasingly uncomfortable with the rise of the industry. Government advisers insisted that this led to increased inequality and made it more difficult for the Communist Party to control what was taught.

“Private schools should be a supplement to public education,” said Wang Feng, an official from the Ministry of Education, at a meeting in June. “Now they are competing with each other for excellent teachers and talented students.”

Some parents believe that the state’s takeover of private schools will help solve the problem of educational inequality.

“The rise of private schools with expensive tuition has made it more difficult for most middle-income students who go to public schools to rise up the social ladder,” said Yang Ping, an office worker in Zhoukou, whose son is in a public elementary school. “I support the new policy. Because it will create a level playing field.”

Officials admitted that if private schools close, public schools with insufficient funds will find it difficult to accommodate large numbers of students. Local authorities with shortage of funds cannot buy out the owners of private schools.

Government consultants in Beijing said that the only solution is for private schools to hand over their operations to the state.

In Zhoukou, central China, an executive from Huaiyang No.1 Middle School, known for his outstanding academic performance, said that he would have no problem donating the institution to the government because it “is in the public interest.”

Additional report by Edward White in Seoul


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