The recent arrests of the presidents of several Chinese science institutions have shaken the academic world and triggered widespread questions about university governance


By Hepeng Jia/Beijing, China

The recent arrests of the presidents of several Chinese science institutions have shaken the academic world and triggered widespread questions about university governance.

On 12 October, it was confirmed that Chen Zhaofang, standing vice-president of Wuhan University and his deputy Chinese Communist Party secretary Long Xiaole were arrested on allegations of corruption. 

On the same day, Guo Zeshen, president of Zhanjiang Normal College in Guangdong Province was arrested for alleged corruption related to the construction of buildings on the college campus. Four days later, the president and vice-president of Wuhan University of Science and Engineering were revealed to have been detained for corruption investigations. 

The authorities have not revealed all the details involved in the alleged corruption at Wuhan University, one of the top 10 universities in China. It is widely rumoured that the two accused had accepted bribes when choosing a construction firm for a new dorm building on the campus. 

Corruptions scandals


’The concentrated exposure of university corruption [reveals] the problematic governance of our universities,’ says Gu Haibing, a professor of public administration at Beijing-based Renmin University of China.

One direct reason for the rash of corruption seems to be the large-scale construction that has taken place over the last 10 years as universities in the country have expanded. Since 1999, in a desperate effort to develop the world’s highest ranking universities, top Chinese institutions have quickened their expansion plans by merging with other colleges and constructing massive luxury buildings and campuses.

’The problem is, as State-owned institutions, universities have not made their infrastructure development properly regulated and sufficiently supervised by the public,’ Gu told Chemistry World.

For example, unlike government departments, contracts for university infrastructure development and equipment purchases are not awarded via public tendering schemes. 

Without other measures and outside supervision to check how universities are using their powers, university leadership is in fact monopolising the decision making process and abusing its rights, according to Gu.

Shen Yong, a researcher at the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University, says that the recent arrests of university leaders does not mean there was no problem before. ’It could be a result of the recently strengthened efforts to clean up the academic and scientific community,’ Shen told Chemistry World.

Since early this year, China’s central government has launched several campaigns to discipline the academic community, curb funding misuse and fight unauthorised funding (see Chemistry World China, July-August 2009 pC3; September-October 2009 pC1).

’From the Wuhan cases, the possibility cannot be excluded that the transition to a new leadership also helped identify corruption because new leaders tend to reveal the poor behaviour of the previous leader’s team,’ adds Shen.

The current education system - including high-tuition fees, inequalities and the low employment rate of students - is also a focus of public dissatisfaction, which has not been helped by the wide public concern surrounding the recent university scandals, Shen says

Alongside the arrests of the university leaders, education minister Zhou Ji was removed from his position on 31 October. Though he was appointed as the deputy Party secretary of the Chinese Academy of Engineering the following day, it is speculated widely that Zhou was deposed because of the poor performance of the education sector.