Newly appointed NPC deputy Wang Heng-qin faces the daunting task of raising the level of professionalism in China's much-criticised prison service. Mr Wang is party secretary of the Central Institute of Prison Police Officers in Hebei province, which trains guards to run prisons across the nation. Located about 130 km from Beijing, it has 5,000 students and about 400 staff. Mr Wang knows he has his work cut out. China's prisons have not attracted the nation's best and brightest to their staff, and standards have suffered as a result. 'In one incident, an officer could not even read a prisoner's name. He faced the humiliation of being taught how to pronounce the name by his own prisoner,' said Mr Wang. Being a prison guard is not a career to be proud of in China, where they have a notorious reputation for poor management and routinely face allegations of human rights abuses. Mr Wang, 48, refused to answer questions about the prison system's poor reputation, but said he had spent the past five years trying to improve professional standards and public perceptions. Through his efforts, the academy was last year allowed by the Education Ministry to award a bachelor degree to its graduates. Many prison officers see the development as a major achievement, since it helps attract competitive candidates and boosts the social status of prison officers. 'I hope that by 2010 the academy can be upgraded to become a recognised university with a good international reputation,' said Mr Wang. He said his institution had engaged in exchange programmes with developed countries and regions including Hong Kong, Japan, Germany and Canada, hoping to learn more advanced management methods. 'In many countries, key prison officers were required to possess at least two degrees, one in legal studies and another in penitentiary management,' he said. Financial problems have been a major obstacle to improving management standards in Chinese prisons, but according to Mr Wang, the central government is aware of this. In 2001, the central leadership ordered the State Development Planning Commission to allocate 40 million yuan (HK$37.6 million) to his institution. Last year it received 228 million yuan for a project to expand the academy's campus.