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February 23, 2010

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Call for action on education target

A CHINESE education policy researcher has suggested holding local officials accountable if they fail to invest enough in education, an approach likely to help the nation meet its 4 percent of GDP target for education investment this year.

"I am optimistic the target can be met this year, if an accountability system is strictly implemented," said Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing Normal University professor who specializes in education policy.

China's basic education law, introduced in 1995, stipulates growth in investment into education by governments at all levels must outpace fiscal revenue growth.

The amended Compulsory Education Law, which took effect in 2006, reasserted the provision, adding that local governments that miss the target are to be held accountable.

The education ministry announced earlier this month that it would work to realize the long overdue 4 percent target this year in its 2010 work agenda. According to latest statistics, investment in education accounted for a record 3.48 percent of China's gross domestic product in 2008.

The target was set in guidelines for the country's reform and development in the education sector in 1993, saying education would get 4 percent of GDP by 2000.

In 2006, it was integrated into China's 11th five-year plan for socio-economic growth, which was endorsed by the National People's Congress as a legally binding objective.

However, the goal has not been achieved so far, and this year is the final year for carrying out the 11th five-year plan.

Zhao Lu, senior official with the Ministry of Finance, said one of the bottlenecks was China's small share of fiscal revenue to GDP, around 21 percent.

"As a result, governments at all levels are financially strained to meet the 4 percent goal," he said.

Actually, fiscal investment in education was growing year on year, up by about 66 percent during the 11th five-year plan period, according to the Ministry of Finance.

However, education still took a back seat to other profit-generating sectors in terms of fiscal investment in many provinces, said Xu.

As a result, people have to pay more out of their own pocket, and have been complaining about surging tuition and miscellaneous fees in recent years.

Xu estimated, if the 4 percent goal is achieved, it would mean additional funding of up to 60 billion yuan (US$8.8 billion) a year.

Xu said the private sector should be encouraged to boost investment in education.

He also called for more donations to support the eduction system.


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