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Liu Yang thinks an American graduate degree is his ticket to a better life — and Beijing’s New Oriental School will help him get it. The private academy promises not only to speed Liu through graduate school entrance exams, but teach him to “think American.” Liu, 21, says that “lets me perform at my best.” But now students at the New Oriental, the biggest school of its kind in China, are getting an unintended lesson in other aspects of American culture — fair play, lawsuits and scandal. The school, which had 150,000 students last year in three cities, is accused of using stolen exam questions to help them prepare. Educational Testing Services, based in Princeton, N.J., has filed suit in a Beijing court, demanding $120,000 and an apology from the school. The lawsuit has kicked up a storm in Chinese media and academic circles. “Has New Oriental stepped in quicksand?” the Commercial Times asked in a headline. Tests are serious business in China, and only a lucky few obtain coveted places at a university. A degree from a U.S., Canadian or British university can multiply a Chinese job-seeker’s earning power by 10 to 20 times. Getting there takes more than China’s memorization-based educational system can offer. Even smart graduates are often uncreative, poor communicators and ill-prepared to sell themselves. New Oriental was started in 1993 by Michael Yu, a graduate of Beijing University. It teaches what it calls the keys to American success: communication, self-promotion and self-confidence. Students are treated to lectures such as “Turning Failure into Success” and “Authority is Within You.” Classes include advice on navigating the college and student visa application process. “These are new concepts for Chinese students. We’re trying to help them close the culture gap,” New Oriental vice president Bob Xu said in an interview. The formula has been so successful, Xu claims, that New Oriental accounts for more than half of all Chinese now studying in the United States. “We’ve gone from being a coaching school to a cultural institution,” said Xu, who has the ever-present smile and engaging body language of a motivational speaker. Nevertheless, New Oriental’s mission is still making sure that students get into graduate school. Like U.S. preparation services such as Kaplan and The Princeton Review, it relies in part on studying past editions of the Graduate Record Examination, Graduate Management Admission Test and the Test of English as a Foreign Language. In three lawsuits filed last month in Beijing, ETS claims New Oriental sold pirated copies of old tests, which are copyrighted. Company agents, it alleges, searched for questions still used on exams. Alarmed by a sharp improvement in Chinese scores and citing “intensive coaching that includes exposure to undisclosed test questions,” the company urged colleges to give applications from China special scrutiny. ETS’s charges have “made enemies” of Chinese students and amount to discrimination, said Xu. The school admits to selling pirated copies of old GREs, but says ETS forced its hand by refusing to offer copies in China. The school has closed down Web sites carrying such questions, and now wants nothing more than to use the official books, Xu said. New Oriental blames the spike in test scores on ETS’s new computer testing system that lets students take tests whenever they’re ready. And Xu denies that New Oriental ever commissioned stealing of test questions. Such information is merely “in circulation,” he said. “We have not built our reputation on petty theft.” New Oriental hopes to settle out of court and win ETS permission to offer practice tests legally, Xu said. Liu, 21, said his hopes of studying political science at an Ivy League school were undiminished by the scandal. “There is a jealousy factor involved. None of these related to our high scores — we use our own abilities.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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