Parents learn a costly lesson on homes

Updated: 2013-07-02 07:36

By Wang Ying (China Daily)

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The battle for a better education goes beyond schools, as Wang Ying reports in Shanghai

University lecturer Jiang Ying is a typical Chinese parent. She has high expectations for her daughter and adheres firmly to the following logic: To be successful in competitive Chinese society, you have to graduate from a prestigious university.

Before that, you must attend a respected middle school, which means, in most cases, you will need quality education at primary school.

Parents learn a costly lesson on homes

Although her daughter is only 3, Jiang has become embroiled in a battle to win admission to a well-respected primary school in southwest Shanghai's Xuhui district.

Related special report: Education reform

"We've lived in Minhang district for years. We have a nice apartment and are familiar with everything there, but I have given up a convenient lifestyle for the sake of my child," said Jiang.

Under China's nine-year compulsory education system - six years of primary schooling followed by three at middle school - parents are not allowed to choose the public school their children attend. Instead, they can be enrolled only at the school nearest their home.

Although it may appear to be a postcode lottery, parents who always put their children's education first and never skimp on their efforts to create better conditions for them can circumvent the apparently rigid rules.

For Jiang, that meant relocating her family to Xuhui district, known for its high-quality schools.

But harsh reality is forcing Jiang to reconsider her plan; a dark, damp 28-square-meter first-floor 1980s apartment costs more than 50,000 yuan ($8,000) per sq m.

Jiang, a mathematics lecturer, now regrets that she failed to factor in the education issue when she bought her first home in Minhang. Now she may have to pay heavily for that miscalculation.

Scarcity of resources

In first-tier cities such as Shanghai, high-quality schools have become scarcer as a result of the rising number of school-age children, driven by an influx of newcomers and a growing realization that early-stage education can be a crucial element in later life.

"Apartments located only a block away are 50 percent cheaper than ours, but they are not included in the enrolment area for our ideal school," said Jiang, who added that the real estate agent who recommended the apartment told her that people only buy this sort of small dwelling as an "admission ticket" to a good school, and nobody really lives in them.

Eventually, she squared the circle, albeit in a complicated manner: "First, we will rent, and live in, a clean and spacious apartment close to the school. Then we will sell our current home in Minhang. With the money from the sale, we'll buy the apartment in Xuhui and register my daughter's residence three years ahead of the time she starts school, in line with the requirements."

In China, primary and middle schools usually have an unwritten rule about the registration period for a child's hukou, or household registration, at a property within the school's catchment area. In Shanghai, the time scale is usually three years.

"When my daughter starts at the school, we'll sell the Xuhui apartment to someone who needs it. The agent assured me that the price will continue to rise because many parents are chasing homes in this area," said Jiang.

The intensifying competition for high-quality schooling is affecting home prices in the city. Apartments close to premier schools sell quickly and are expensive, according to local media reports.

A 28-sq-m one-bedroom apartment recently sold for 2.35 million yuan - an incredible 83,000 yuan per sq m - in the downtown district of Jing'an. The buyers bought their apartment simply so their child would be eligible to attend a well-respected school, the Shanghai Morning Post reported in June.

"Privacy concerns mean we are unable to verify the deal, but we believe this phenomenon is rare," said a district government clerk surnamed Yang.

Song Huiyong, director of the research and consultation department at the property consultancy Shanghai Centaline, said the frenzy for otherwise undesirable apartments is a result of the extremely limited number of high-quality schools in China.

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