Friday, March 11, 2016

Housing -- the new price of education

Parents want the best for their kids, and, for some, the cost is no issue.

In Beijing, parents are paying exorbitant prices for addresses that will ensure their kids get into the city's best schools.

One couple spent a staggering 5.3 million yuan (813,600 U.S. dollars) on a tiny house in a hutong, the capital's unique winding back alleys.

At 11 square meters, or 460,000 yuan per square meter, the house in Wenchang Hutong in downtown Beijing is the most expensive school district house ever sold in China.

While the owners won't be throwing many dinner parties in this little studio -- it has barely enough space for a bed -- they will be celebrating the fact that their kid will be guaranteed a place at Beijing No. 2 Experimental Primary School, arguably the capital's best elementary school.

"This is crazy," said Chi Yu, an education specialist who has been observing the trend over the past eight years.

Not surprisingly, the online community has weighed-in on the discussion, with one report shared on microblog Sina Weibo attracting almost 6,000 comments by 9 a.m. Thursday.

"You can do so much with five million yuan, why spent it on a shabby house?" read a comment by "Wuxinji."

"If your child does not want to study, it doesn't matter what school you get them into," commented another Weibo user.

This is not the first, and will unlikely be the last, school-district house sale to generate discussion on the topic.

In 2013, a 37-sq-m house in Beijing's Haidian District sold for 3.5 million, leading many to dub it "the center of the universe."

According to estate agent Homelink, in 2013 house prices in Beijing's school districts were 30 percent higher than other districts on average.

LOFTY AMBITIONS

Located southwest of Xidan in Beijing's Xicheng District, Wenchang Hutong is just 400 meters long, but "For Sale" adverts crowd the alley's gray stone walls.

"Most buyers just buy houses here to get their kids into the local school," a former resident of the hutong told Xinhua. ( On real estate website 58.com, houses in the school-catchment area cost around 350,000 yuan per square meter. Many of the adverts use the proximity to the primary school as the property's main selling point.

Multiple agents told Xinhua that children graduating from the primary school are guaranteed entry to the famous Experimental High School, which, in turn, is attached to Beijing Normal University.

This housing phenomenon is by no means just restricted to Beijing. Shanghai and Guangzhou have also reported excessively-high housing prices in the catchment areas of good schools.

Hu Linlin, who lives and works in Shanghai, bought a 70-sq-m house near an elite foreign language primary school in Lujiazui District for 3.6 million yuan last year. It has been just half a year, and the property was recently valued at 5.2 million yuan.

Second-tier cities have not got off any lighter. While prices are not as high as those seen in first-tier cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, they are inflated when compared to the local market.

In Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, house-prices near Hohhot Experimental High School have climbed in recent years, according to Wang Buping, who teaches at the school.

"Even poorer neighborhoods have seen prices hit more than 8,000 yuan per square meter," Wang said. The average for the city is 5,700 yuan.

Wang added that after the school built a new campus in a remote area in Hohhot, house prices there also soared.

"This makes these homes out of the reach of ordinary residents," Wang said.

SPEND MORE TIME

Gai Zhiyi, dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences of Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, said the situation was exacerbated by a lack of foresight when planning and building schools.

"In addition, this system, of enrollment based on registered addresses, plays its part," Gai said.

As urgency mounts, urban planning experts are calling for better distribution of education resources.

Wang Lina, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, suggested that China adopt a "rotating system," whereby teachers move between schools.

"Perhaps an online classroom could be developed, too? Allowing more students to be taught by highly qualified staff," Wang said.

Gai Zhiyi said that schools were "only a part of education."

"Getting kids into these 'top' schools does not guarantee them a perfect future, in fact it could make them take a lot of things for granted," Gai said.

Rather than throwing money at their child, perhaps parents could offer something a bit more priceless -- their own time, the professor added.

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