Principal investigated over alleged school fee embezzlement

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2009, 12:00am

A primary school headmistress is being investigated over the alleged embezzlement of tens of millions of yuan in school fees from parents who wanted to send their children to a top school.

Liu Yanwen, former principal of Guangzhou's elite Dongfeng Donglu Primary School in Yuexiu district, is also under investigation for allegedly receiving a number of properties from developers who want to have their blocks included in the school's catchment area to boost prices.

Ms Liu has been under investigation by district authorities since late last year, the Guangzhou Daily reported yesterday.

'It is an open market,' said one parent who asked not to be named. 'The former headmistress charged parents openly. The government allows schools to charge 40,000 yuan [HK$45,500] per child, but she charges more than the government maximum and pockets the difference.'

The fees - known as zexiaofei - are common practice on the mainland. Schools charge people from outside their district to enrol within their catchment area. In Guangzhou, education officials allow top city schools to charge 30,000 yuan and elite provincial-level schools to charge 40,000 yuan.

Those who do not have Guangzhou residency, or hukou, have to pay double the school fees to get their children in those schools.

The schools are supposed to give the fees to the government so it will have extra money to invest in education, but if the schools charge more than the government requires, they can pocket the difference.

Last month the Guangdong provincial government issued a document outlining ways to improve education, including a plan to eradicate the fee in three to four years.

'Ideally speaking, the fee is a source of revenue which allows the authorities extra resources to improve education,' Renmin University sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng said. 'But in reality, it is one of many examples of unreasonable government charges, and it provides an opportunity for people to embezzle the money. The system is corrupt.'

Neither the school nor the prosecution unit commented.