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China sacks Education Minister amid scandal

Last Updated: Sunday, November 1, 2009 - 13:45

Beijing: China`s legislature has removed the country`s unpopular Education Minister amid a corruption scandal in a city he used to oversee and widespread public dissatisfaction with the education system.
The executive committee of the national legislature dismissed Zhou Ji on Saturday at the end of a routine meeting and promoted a deputy education minister to replace him. In announcing the change late Saturday, the official Xinhua News Agency gave no reason but said Zhou "will get a new appointment”.

At 63, the American-educated Zhou was two years short of retirement and thus an unlikely candidate for a job change.

The surprise move was the latest shift to roil a public education system that Chinese traditionally idealise as a fair pathway to advancement but that has been filled with problems — from chronic underfunding at primary and secondary levels to poor quality higher education.

Though many of the ills predate Zhou`s rise to Education Minister six years ago, he has come to be associated with them. When the legislature, the National People`s Congress, met last year to vote in a new Cabinet for a five-year term, Zhou received the highest number of negative votes of any minister.

Zhou`s removal comes just weeks after two senior administrators were arrested for bribery at Wuhan University. While Zhou has not been publicly linked with the scandal, he spent much of his career in Wuhan city working in the education system and served as mayor for two years before being elevated to education minister.

The corruption case at Wuhan University encapsulates many of the problems Chinese universities are facing. Beijing began a rapid expansion of higher education in the 1990s, pouring money into the system to create competitive world-class schools and provide more spaces for children of a baby boom then coming of university age.

Under that plan, Wuhan University merged with three other schools in 2000 and began a CNY 980 million (USD 120 million) program to build new school buildings, dormitories and housing for professors. The two arrested administrators were accused of taking bribes related to the building boom.

China Newsweek, a state-run magazine, quoted Liu Qun, an anti-corruption investigator for the Wuhan city government, as saying the Wuhan University corruption was only "the tip of the iceberg." Around the same time, the president of another university in Wuhan was detained for questioning, while the head of a teacher`s college in the southern city of Zhanjiang was arrested for unspecified economic crimes.

Senior ministers such as Zhou are occasionally removed by the communist leadership not for specific wrongdoing but to placate public opinion. In those cases, the senior officials are usually reappointed to high positions after an interlude out of the public spotlight.

Yuan Guiren was named as Zhou`s replacement, Xinhua said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Sunday, November 1, 2009 - 13:45
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