The government's $586-billion stimulus package and record bank lending have enabled the Chinese economy to rebound strongly from the worst global recession in decades. But public concern is rising that the country's dependence on investment for economic growth may be too high to be sustained.
That is why policymakers should pay closer attention not only to the problem of over-investment in a number of industries and sectors, but also keep on their policy radar the investment deficit in a vital area: education.
China's public spending on education, according to a recent report, increased from 3.22 percent of its GDP in 2007 to 3.48 percent last year. Such an increase in government spending - as a proportion of GDP - is commendable at first glance. It shows that the government diverted more public resources to educational undertakings, which are crucial for the overall development of the people as well as the country.
Yet it confirms that the government has failed to meet its target of spending at least 4 percent of GDP on education.
Public education in China is a State subject, run by the Ministry of Education. The government has made nine-year compulsory education free. Students who want to continue their studies further can attend three years of senior high school, before taking the national college entrance exam. For higher studies, they can enrol in any of the thousands of universities in the country.
As part of its efforts to combat the global financial and economic crises, the government has pledged to increase its spending on education this year. But it is not clear if public spending on education has reached the level required by the country's Education Law.
It is possible that the massive government-led expenditure to build new schools in areas devastated by last year's Sichuan earthquake may help close the long-term deficit in public spending on education.
But even if that were to be the case, policymakers should see it only as a temporary achievement.
Compared with government-led investment in infrastructure and industrial sectors, public spending on education is no less rewarding, because it helps sharpen the country's competitiveness in the long run.
Besides, the urgent need to boost domestic consumption to combat the global downturn demands that the government lessen the people's educational and other social welfare burdens as much and as soon as possible.
Government-led investment is undoubtedly crucial for the sound growth of the national economy next year. But policymakers should also realize that closing the deficit in public spending on education is equally important.
(China Daily 12/02/2009 page8)