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Billions charged in illegal school fees
( 2003-12-17 01:10) (China Daily)

Electronic enrollment fees, desk-and-chair fees, residence archive fees, night study fees, bicycle-keeping fees, school construction fees, thesis tutorship fees...

The fee name game can be endless, as long as a school wants to levy charges beyond tuition and the charges are permitted by the State and provincial price supervisors.

"Illegal charges are still rampant and going on in all kinds of forms,'' Li Lei, director of the price supervision and inspection department of the National Development and Reform Commission, said yesterday in Beijing.

From September to November, the commission, together with a number of ministry-level institutions, launched a nationwide inspection of illegal charges in schools.

Initial inspection of more than 60,000 colleges, schools and educational departments in 20 provinces, regions and municipalities discovered 21.4 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) of illegal charges in more than 12,000 cases.

The commission publicized the names of the top-10 schools on the blacklist, including colleges or middle schools in Beijing, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, Guangxi and Chongqing.

Those schools either charged for items themselves, overcharged for existing items or kept requiring forbidden fees for enrolment, examinations and other services.

A common practice found is to charge so-called sponsorship fees from a student whose scores in entrance examination are too low to qualify.

A school, for example, asked each of more than 100 unqualified students to "donate'' a computer worth more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,200) in order to be admitted, Li said.

To tackle illegal operations like this, the price supervisory authority will launch more inspections in schools where students complain.

A hotline (set up at 12358) is available for all local people to complain to price supervisors.

Serious or repetitive cases will be exposed to the public while officials responsible will be subject to administrative penalties or even criminal charges, said Li.

But exact punishments for the blacklisted top 10 schools were not disclosed.

Li said most of the malpractice occurred not in cities but in rural areas where financial budgets are short, some schools can not cover the teachers' salary.

"This is a more complex problem that can not be solved unless all problems in our education system are smoothed out,'' said Li.

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