Schools pay price in education drive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2005, 12:00am

Linhai campuses are millions of yuan in debt after forced move to the city fringe

A drive to turn Linhai city in Zhejiang into an important education centre has left primary and secondary schools with palatial campuses, huge debts and uncertain futures.

Under the slogan of 'Studying in Linhai', seven key primary, junior and high schools have spent hundreds of millions of yuan to build a school town with hi-tech campuses, Xinhua reports.

A teacher at the Hui Pu High School told the South China Morning Post it now had to borrow money to pay salaries. 'The school has owed a total of 200 million yuan since last year,' he said.

'It has never been faced with such great pressure to pay back mortgages before.'

Another teacher at the 93-year-old school said he was worried about its future because it could not afford to pay several million yuan in interest each year.

'Our headmaster suddenly seems 10 years older because he has the responsibility for raising funds,' the teacher said.

The new 200 million yuan, 88,000 square metre Hui Pu High School sits on grounds covering more than 20 hectares, 10km from the old school. Its facilities include classrooms, laboratories, multipurpose conference rooms, a library, indoor gymnasiums and playing fields.

However, Hui Pu is not the city's biggest or most advanced school. The 100-year-old Taizhou High School became 65 per cent bigger than Hui Pu when it moved to its new 260 million yuan campus that covers more than 32 hectares.

The school is the alma mater of former Politburo Standing Committee member Wei Jianxing .

A former Taizhou High School principal, Ding Xihui, said the local government had promised all schools lower land prices and mortgage support if they agreed to move quickly from their old inner-city campuses.

Some teachers said the local government's real aim was to expand the city by building the school town in rural areas. They pointed out that Taizhou High had taken out a 30 million yuan loan to expand the old campus and build a science museum a few years ago.

The teachers said the old school had an enrolment in the hundreds of non-local students each year and they had been unwilling to relocate.

'But the municipal government said that the order to move out was compulsory and necessary to establish the brand of 'Studying in Linhai',' said a teacher.

A Taizhou High School spokeswoman said that to make the loan payments, the principal had been working hard to attract more non-local students, who had to make a one-off payment of 30,000 yuan to attend the school if their marks were not high enough to gain free enrolment.

'We have to pay 13 million yuan each year in interest, but in line with educational bureau guidelines can only enrol 400 students each year, which brings in just 12 million yuan,' she said.

A Linhai Education Bureau spokesman said setting up new campuses was the city government's policy. 'All we can do is to implement the order.'

Bureau director Lu Xianfa told Xinhua he was afraid that Linhai would lose its status as a key education centre in the province if the schools did not build and move into new campuses because other cities had been improving their education facilities.

A retired associate professor of Taizhou College, Yu Ruzhong, criticised the blind pursuit of the grandiose infrastructure projects.

Professor Yu said the municipal government had used the school town's name to develop rural property, while seizing old campus land in the city centre to sell at high prices. 'The projects only benefit the government, and the teachers have been left with the bill.'