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UPDATED: August 27, 2014 NO. 35 AUGUST 28, 2014
Hotbed for Corruption?
China's elite education programs remain controversial
By Yin Pumin

The high tuition fees have raised suspicions over misuse of public money.

"Most business people pay the tuition fees themselves, while the government pays half or all of the fees for officials," said the SOE manager who has attended the three EMBA courses.

Anti-graft researchers say that the use of public money by officials for personal activities, including further study, is also a form of corruption and have recommended the government ban this practice.

In other cases, some EMBA programs willingly deduct or even scrap tuition fees for officials.

The Peking University program, for instance, has a policy of "exempting tuition if an official can bring three other entrepreneurs to the class."

There have been reported cases where officials treat entrepreneurs to meals and entrepreneurs offer to help officials pay their tuition fees in return, a reciprocal relationship that helps forge ties and connections for both.

"By so doing, the tuition fees of those government officials are actually shifted to entrepreneurs," said Li Chengyan, a professor at Peking University's School of Government, indicating that such practice is also corruption-prone.

One example is Wang Yi, former Vice Chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission and one of the founders of the EMBA program at Guanghua School of Management of Peking University. He was once influential enough to attract huge numbers of students to the course, though he later received a suspended death sentence over bribery charges in 2010.

Worrying trend

Considering the situation of EMBA program in China, several members of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference put forward a proposal in January to ban officials from participating in these costly programs.

"EMBA programs are for business managers and entrepreneurs, and do not provide essential knowledge for officials. Instead, they offer a platform for business people and officials to extend their social network, an act that could possibly lead to corruption," the proposal said. It suggested officials be encouraged to take Master of Public Administration programs.

Except for a few popular programs like those of Tsinghua and Peking universities, EMBA recruitment has already witnessed a decline, according to media reports.

"The number of government officials and senior managers of SOEs participating in costly EMBA programs has dropped sharply following the government's anti-corruption measures," said a report in the Beijing Youth Daily in early July.

"Local governments and SOEs have tightened their expenses on sponsoring the further study of senior officials," a professor at a renowned business school who declined to be named told the Beijing-based newspaper. "Average schools are the most affected as it has become quite difficult for them to recruit students this year."

Top-tier universities have been affected too. An employee of the EMBA Admissions Office at the Business School of the Beijing-based Renmin University of China, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said that they had received only 37 applications as of late June, not even enough for a single class. "Many government officials are forgoing their applications after the Communist Party of China (CPC) introduced the eight-point anti-decadence regulation," the employee said.

The regulation, which was adopted by the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in December 2012, urges officials to "get close to the public" by eliminating "undesirable work styles," including extravagance, hedonism and excessive bureaucracy.

It is in line with the ongoing anti-corruption campaign that targets both "tigers" and "flies," referring to corrupt officials at both senior and lower-ranking levels.

However, some stakeholders hold that EMBA programs are not the root cause of corruption.

"The majority of the students in our courses come from private businesses and foreign companies, while government officials make up less than 10 percent," Li Ni, an EMBA professor at a business school in Shanghai, told the Shanghai-based China Business News.

"Even if collusion between officials and business people does exist, it doesn't have to be achieved through an EMBA program," Li argued. "The key to curbing collusion is not banning officials from studying EMBA, but containing it within the 'cage of regulations.'"

The impacts of such programs can also be viewed in a more positive light. Some local officials from remote regions have managed to boost the local economy and attract investment through studying EMBA in big cities, China Business News reported.

Li said that officials can also benefit from the knowledge learned in EMBA programs. Studying business management will not only help them form better related policies and training staff, but will also benefit their career planning, according to him.

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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