15 tutoring firms fined US$5.7m for false claims
China's market regulator fined 15 tutoring firms a total of 36.5 million yuan (US$5.73 million) for misleading advertising and pricing frauds.
The 15 companies include Tencent-backed Yuanfudao, Alibaba-backed Zuoyebang, Wall Street English and New Oriental Education & Technology Group, the State Administration for Market Regulation said on Tuesday at a news briefing.
Among the wrongdoings were "fabricating teacher qualifications, exaggerating the effects of training ... and fabricating user reviews," according to the administration.
Some courses offered by the companies were sold at just 1 yuan, discounts that masked the eventual full price.
Bond Education is found to have inflated a package of trial classes to 420 yuan and offering it at an apparent discount of 12 yuan, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The penalized firms included several with US or Hong Kong listings, including TAL Education Group, OneSmart Education Group, Beststudy Education Group and Scholar Education.
Yuan Xilu, an official with the regulatory body, noted that their malpractices had damaged the legitimate rights and interests of students and disrupted the orderly market competition.
The firms have been urged to rectify their problems, and recidivism will mean business suspension or license revocation, he added.
The tutoring industry should not develop for profiteering, and disorderly expansion should be forestalled, said Yuan, adding that market regulators will build a long-term mechanism of oversight and improve the code of conduct and supervision principles.
The first quarter of 2021 saw surging complaints about the tutoring industry, with the total number of complaints filed by consumers via the online service platform "12315" topping 47,000, up 65 percent from a year earlier, he said.
Intense competition starting from a young age has amped up the pressure on China's parents to pay extra to get their children ahead in the competitive education system.