Global Economics

B-School Admissions Cheating Scandal Ratted Out In China


Students in a class at Renmin University of China in Beijing on May 31, 2013

Photograph by Gilles Sabrie/The New York Times via Redux

Students in a class at Renmin University of China in Beijing on May 31, 2013

In China it’s common to get spam messages on your mobile phone—including advertisements promising to boost your graduate-school admissions test scores and secure placement in MBA programs. Reporters at CCTV decided to take one spammer up on the “academic” offer in January–and then uncovered one of the largest organized test-cheating rings yet discovered involving a Chinese B-school.

Stories about corruption in higher education in China are depressingly common. Last fall, a high-ranking admissions officer at Beijing’s prestigious Renmin University – often called the Harvard of China – was apprehended at an airport trying to flee the country with a fake passport. State media soon reported that he had been accused of trading admissions spots for bribes, sometimes as much as 1 million yuan (about $165,000). In 2012, another professor at Renmin University, Cao Tingbing, leapt to his death from a high-rise building amid unconfirmed rumors of another admissions corruption scandal.

China’s graduate schools are not immune to admissions irregularities. Recently CCTV reporters followed spam messages to uncover a big one, as revealed in a broadcast last week. When an under-cover reporter first visited the so-called Zhihengzhi Training Center in Beijing, he saw files describing plans for test-takers to wear wireless earpieces through which they would hear test answers dictated. Graduate school admissions tests are administered at pre-arranged times in examination rooms monitored by a university.

Because communication devices, such as mobile phones and laptops, are not allowed in testing rooms, such a scam could only work with the cooperation of one or more universities. CCTV reporters discovered that Harbin Polytechnic University, which runs a graduate MBA program, was cooperating with Zhihengzhi Training Center.

On a test date in early January, university administrators led students who had enrolled in the “training” program to a separate examination room and then distributed wireless earpieces, before giving a brief tutorial on how to use to use them. One of the “test-takers was a CCTV reporter, who took photos of the events. Two university administrators at Harbin Polytechnic University have already been suspended, and admissions for the MBA program put on hold.

It’s not the first time that Chinese media has uncovered fraudulent “test-prep” programs promising to guarantee MBA admissions. In 2011, Guangming Daily investigated a similar training center in Beijing that accepted fees in exchange for allegedly negotiating with admissions officials for MBA placements at a variety of small universities in Beijing. As Peking University professor Huang Yiping told the newspaper, the rapid increase in the number of MBA programs in China – far exceeding the demand for their graduates – has created plenty of openings for fraud: “Over time MBA education will go astray,” he said.

Larson is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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