China's universities once had higher ideals than monetary greed but have become riddled with corruption, state media reported. Gao Xiaodong, the official in charge of construction at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, was jailed for life last month for embezzling 972,000 yuan (HK$913,700) in public funds, soliciting bribes worth 505,000 yuan and misappropriating one million yuan, according to the China News Weekly, a magazine published by the China News Service. The corruption case is one of many uncovered recently in Shanghai, Nanjing, Dalian and Guangzhou, homes to the mainland's leading universities. Wu Xintian, a district prosecutor in Shanghai, told the magazine that the number of graft cases, the amount of money and the level of officials involved within the universities were unprecedented. Corruption in China's academic institutions started about 10 years ago, the report quoted sources as saying. The graft epidemic grew quietly over the decade, but erupted towards the end of the 1990s. Half of the 32 universities in Beijing's university district of Haidian were said to have encountered corruption in the past 10 years. This year, 36 graft cases have surfaced in Shaanxi province, bringing down 61 people, including 22 senior cadres involved in higher education. Cadres are mainly to blame for university corruption, the magazine quoted an education expert as saying. 'These officials control the purchasing power for the universities' infrastructure projects and educational facilities which other ordinary teachers do not have access to.' Most of those involved in corruption are administration and management staff at the universities, probes found. Analysts said that because universities had been allowed more freedom to manage finances, opportunities for graft had emerged. Increasing business involvement by universities seeking to solve funding problems had also added to the problem. Beijing leaders have started to take notice of the rising graft. The Ministry of Education held a national conference in Shaanxi in April attended by discipline inspection secretaries and supervision inspectors from 26 universities. Senior officials from the Ministry of Supervision also attended.