CHINA: Bogus military school closed

A bugle call rings out at Zhonglian Judicial College at 1:30 pm, two weeks after the head of the privately funded school was arrested. It should be a call for students to gather on the training field after the lunch break but none heed it.

Anxious students and worried parents insist on staying in the school, located in Fangshan district, after the institute was announced illegal by the Fangshan commission of education on 10 May.

Many went to the school because it had a 'judicial and police department' and the school website claimed graduates were guaranteed jobs in the court system, police stations, the army or procuratorates.

Most of the 60 students have each paid 60,000 yuan (US$8,800) for their four-year tuition. But getting a refund is the least of their concerns - studying in a bogus college means they have wasted their time.

Tian Li (not her real name), a senior student, said her life has been changed overnight. The 22-year-old was due to graduate in June but she is now facing what she called "a hopeless future".

After the institute was announced 'unlicensed', all the students were offered two options by the district education commission: to transfer to another private college starting as a freshman, or to go home and wait for a refund.

Neither of the two options satisfies the students and parents and they are querying how a seemingly functional education institute with about five years operating history could be suddenly closed.

"I have no idea what to do now. It is so difficult to find a job without a college degree. And there is no way for me to start all over again as a freshman. By the time I graduate, I would be 26," Tian said. She hasn't informed her parents about the closure because she has no idea where to start.

Most of the parents who arrived at the school from all over China were shocked by the news.

A father said it was hard to believe because "everything seemed so real in the school". He heard about the school from a neighbour and enrolled his daughter without much hesitation.

"All the students here dressed in police uniforms with their individual numbers on them. All the cars driving in and out are police cars.

"When I enrolled my daughter, they even asked for a certificate from our local police station, guaranteeing none of our families had committed a crime before," he said, adding no fake school could have such strict recruitment standards.

Parents said that after paying the school tuition, they all received contracts with the school saying their children were guaranteed to get a job after graduation.

Some students who enrolled in 2006 said there were about 400 students at the time. But many had withdrawn when there were rumours it did not have appropriate certification. But many trusted the school and stayed on.

"Some officials from the district education commission visited us during school activities. And we also worked as part of the security for the 2008 Olympic Games," Ma Chao, a senior student, said.

"If the school was illegal, why did the Fangshan district education commission not say something when the rumour first started? Why did they let the school perform for so many years?"

Many hope the government will give the school verification so that they can at least get a degree certificate rather than ending up with nothing. But, Zhang Kai, a sophomore who was forced to attend the school by his parents, is an exception.

When Zhang entered the school, he concluded immediately it was not a real school. The so-called 386-hectare campus is built on mountains. Zhang pointed to hundreds of trees and said: "See over there, we grew them. That's all we've learnt here."

Zhang said though the school claimed to offer many different majors, all the students learned the same courses.

"Most of our teachers are previous students from the school. We did have some relatively professional teachers but they all left when they found the school couldn't afford their already low salaries," he said.

Wang Pengrui, the school president, and other key officials have been arrested and face possible fraud charges, according to an officer from the Fangshan commission of education.

The case is under investigation. And the students were asked to leave the school by 6 pm on 12 May. But most have stayed on, afraid that once they leave their money and hopes for a bright future will all be gone.