New regulations governing foreign investment in schools will be enacted on September 1, marking a step forward in opening the tightly controlled education sector. Premier Zhu Rongji signed the rules into law early this month, Xinhua reported, in one of his final acts before leaving office next week. The mainland pledged to allow joint-venture schools with majority foreign ownership immediately after entering the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in December 2001. The regulations, which cover all aspects of operating joint-venture schools, aimed to strengthen foreign educational co-operation and encourage development of the sector, the report said. The mainland is eager to attract investment and resources from foreign schools, but it exercises strict control over private education. In a policy white paper, the American Chamber of Commerce in China said: 'The Ministry of Education authorises few private and joint-venture programmes to confer degrees upon their graduates. This low rate of authorisation stems from quality-control needs, but cultural and nationalistic concerns are also key factors.' Under the new rules, joint-venture schools are deemed part of the mainland's education system and cannot operate outside that realm. The regulations prevent joint ventures from offering 'compulsory' education - which on the mainland includes primary and middle school - and ban them from sensitive areas involving the military, police and politics. Officials from the Shanghai Education Administration said the city had 200 joint-venture schools or co-operative programmes, but only at the kindergarten, high school and university levels. The rules say the state encourages foreign participation in higher learning and occupational training. Industry officials say licences are usually only granted to institutions already accepting students in their home countries. Joint-venture schools must help boost the development of the mainland's educational system and guarantee quality, the rules say. Such ventures are also entitled to preferential policies granted by the government to educational institutions. Foreign school operators say the joint ventures must be allowed to operate for profit. They said they had many resources to offer the mainland.