Chinese Parents Confronted With Corruption that Affects Even State Agencies

Brice Pedroletti of Le Monde reports on the tangled work of corruption that has affected educational institutions in both China and France. Translated by CDT:

A frenzy for education in China and, in France, a craze for the “market” of Chinese students have fostered corruption that is exported today. While most of the channels by which young Chinese students are sent abroad are legitimate, some unscrupulous operators have led students astray.

In Nanjing, a group of angry parents sought to recuperate thousands of euros that an unofficial operator had unduly charged. The fees were for a diploma from a French institution which offered training that, in reality, cost far less than the announced price: “In speaking with a French professor, our children learned that the diploma was not lucrative in France. Otherwise, we would have never known,” said Mrs. Wang of Nanjing over telephone. The original site, the School of Multimedia in Paris, believed it had found a choice partner in Jiangsu Education Services for International Exchange (JESIE). JESIE was from the province’s Bureau of Education which held agreements with a number of French universities and engineering schools. The project was to recruit about ten Chinese students with degrees in information and graphic arts to be trained to lead a multimedia project in France.

The school would send French professors to Nanjing for a pre-training that cost 900 euros, plus a sum, unknown to the school, taken by the operator who put it at the disposal of his offices. “I learned in June 2008 that the Chinese advertisements for the program promised a BAC of 5+ — and the key — a resident card and job in France,” explained Remy Galland, director of the School of Multimedia in Paris. In November 2008, the French teacher that was sent to Nanjing spoke of a certain malaise around the students. Mr. Galland discovered that parents had paid 10,000 euros for the program proposed by JESIE, of which 3,500 euros would be for the diploma, and 500 euros would go towards the registration certificate. “It was absurd: granting diplomas isn’t automatic. They’re not sold, and the registration certificates are free,” recounted Mr. Galland. “I blocked the presenting of the certificates and demanded that the costs be reimbursed.”

The operator accused an intermediary and then, seeing that the student files would not be transferred, began to try to recover money from him by receipt of the visas. But once the students were in France, Mr. Galland heard another strike of the bell: “They told me that they were really happy with the exchange, and that it should continue. In short, the deal was done, and the money was returned to the intermediary…” In late March, parents informed police of the scam. JESIE had had them sign a contract which obligated them to pay 3,500 euros, and 6,500 euros, the money for the diploma, was paid to an intermediary, a Zhou Chang. Families wished to recover a part of the money inappropriately paid to the intermediary: “As for the rest, we’re pretty happy. We aren’t aware of the real costs. And so our children are paid 380 euros a month in France!” said Mrs. Wang.

Institutions that have had direct relations with Chinese universities are no strangers to this trend: for example, the case of Toulouise-II and Paris-XII Val-de-Marne, which, in 2007, believed that some of their programs had been receiving students from the prestigious Nanjing University. In fact, students came from a the “International College of Nanjing University,” a private service of the establishment. The service was in fact linked to the department of foreign languages which had recruited beyond quota and at steep prices. The practice is widespread in China, where universities that are in debt have been encouraged to earn some money. The candidates, mediocre students from wealthy families or failed students in the universities of their choice, are in no short supply.

In the case of Toulouse-II, Chinese students left for France for a preparatory year for university training [diplôme universitaire (DU)], after having taken tests and interviews organized in Shanghai by Campus France, an agency that first examined all the candidates’ files. In 2007, a Chinese professor in Nanjing proposed to a French employee that he “pass” 50 files. Alerted authorities discovered that the students were not really from Nanjing University, and that their linguistic and academic levels were actually quite low. The police then expressed an unfavorable opinion [of the program].

Among those students who had successfully spent the previous years in university training, very few have been admitted to Toulouse-II. At least one of those who had failed in 2007 said to one of our sources that he had bought a registration to a Parisian university for 3,400 euros. “At first, students were swindled, and then found themselves in France with students who had no chance in these types of university studies. Left high and dry, they looked to find a solution no matter what the cost — and that can lead to corruption…” said the source.