Liu Wei, a Chongqing resident, stretched himself financially to buy an apartment near a private school in Yubei District, more than 30 kilometers from downtown. “The quality of the apartment was not good, slightly better than affordable public housing,” he told NewsChina. He said that it was to ensure his son had access to good teachers from the affiliated public school, but now he complains he has to reconsider plans for his son’s education.
Yubei District is a hub for affiliated private schools like Hongfan Middle School. They attract so many high caliber teachers because of their public school partners that Yubei, where education standards had been low, has become a byword for quality education.
Many urban governments use partnerships between public-private schools and real estate companies to develop new districts – a good public school attracts people into a new area once it brings in good educational resources, mainly teachers, and when the area gets increasingly prosperous, more private schools emerge and more residents and businesses follow.
Newspaper Chengdu Business reported that seven of Chongqing’s top-rated public middle schools have established 41 branch campuses. Only 15 are public. Some schools have only established affiliated private schools, most with real estate companies. Buying an apartment comes with automatic school enrollment.
“The public school generally gets half the total stake in the private school because they bring their reputation and teachers,” an insider in Chongqing’s education sector told NewsChina on condition of anonymity.
“This is win-win for all three parties,” Ma Xuelei, deputy director of Beijing Private Education Commission, a social organization, told NewsChina. “Good affiliated private schools provide a magnet for real estate projects, and tuition fees help with the public schools’ tight budgets, and local governments get education resources distributed to the suburbs at little cost,” he said.
According to Ma, some local governments, although not all, decide which public school partners with which enterprise depending on the size of the investment. “The best school will of course be given to the biggest investor,” he said.
The appeal for parents is high. Apartments in a real estate development which included a place at Shoudi Renhejie Elementary School established by Renhejie Elementary School, one of Chongqing’s best primary schools, and its partner Capital Airport Holding Corp, reportedly sold out in two hours.
“This is quenching a thirst with poison,” Cheng Fangping, a professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing and deputy director of the Education Commission under the Central Committee of the China Association for Promoting Democracy, told NewsChina. “These private schools have just transferred the cost of education, which should be borne by local governments, to parents,” he said.
“The private schools are essentially public,” Yang Dongping, a member of the State Education Consultation Commission and director-general of the 21st Century Education Institute, told NewsChina. “Those schools enjoy both the public schools’ resources and private schools’ freedom to charge... This is unreasonable,” he said.
Criticism has grown as people find it unfair that good educational resources flow into private schools and rich people benefit.
At a press conference on the new rules in May, Liu Changya, director of the MOE’s development and planning department, said that joint public-private schools have on one hand diluted a public school’s brand and resources, and expanded education anxiety among parents, and on the other created unfair competition between private and public schools by using public schools’ reputations and resources.