China may ban for-profit, private elementary and middle schools in a move likely to tighten government control of education and cool a fast-growing but poorly regulated sector.
Leaders of the country’s legislature are considering changes to a law this week that would make it illegal to run profit-making private schools for students in the first- through ninth grades, an age group that is entitled to free, compulsory education from the state.
Caixin magazine reported on its website late on Tuesday the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress was likely to pass draft changes when it wrapped up a meeting early next week.
The education sector has boomed in China in recent years - and become a magnet for investment - as the government relaxed restrictions to help meet growing demand and to increase options.
Regulation has been weak, however, leading to widely varying standards of quality.
The proposal to outlaw private, for-profit elementary and middle schools comes a week after the Shanghai government told principals from 21 international and bilingual schools in the city to offer China-specific subjects, according to Caixin.
“The proposed revision is a sign that the state wants greater control over education, which will pose a significant risk to foreign joint ventures in the field,” Caixin quoted a foreign investor in private schools as saying.
Greater government control of education follows a tightening of oversight of a range of areas since President Xi Jinping became Communist Party boss in 2012, including over information, news and the internet. The government has campaigned against the spread of “Western values” at universities.
But Caixin also quoted unidentified sources as saying the legislators were motivated by concern that the proliferation of often-expensive private schools would widen inequalities in access to basic education.
The draft was likely to be passed when the eight-day meeting of parliamentary leaders ends, it quoted Wu Hua, head of the Research Center of Private Education at Zhejiang University, as saying.
The change would affect about 10,700 schools and as many as 12 million students, Caixin reported.
The wording of the draft law, reported last week by the Communist Party’s top newspaper, the People’s Daily, does not ban non-profit private schools for first- through ninth graders.