PARIS - A French university boss was suspended on Monday for obstructing a probe into claims that corrupt academics handed out degrees to hundreds of Chinese students in exchange for cash.
Higher Education Minister Valerie Pecresse ordered a probe in April into reports that Sud Toulon Var university was enrolling Chinese students with an inadequate level of French and was dishing out qualifications for money.
Last month she authorised a full judicial inquiry and disciplinary action at the faculty after an inquiry confirmed the southeastern faculty had bent the rules to award degrees to Chinese students who did not merit them.
But on Monday the education ministry said Pecresse had been forced to suspend the university's president Laroussi Oueslati and his two deputies for hampering the inquiry and harassing staff who tried to speak out.
The ministry said it had found evidence that Oueslati and his deputies had 'hampered the probe, sidelined teachers and staff, subjecting them to pressure, intimidation and threats of reprisals.'
It also found Oueslati's team had seized documents, suggesting an attempt to destroy evidence in the case.
Press reports that exposed the alleged diploma fraud claimed the system was common in other French universities, but so far officials have only publicly confirmed a problem existed in Sud Toulon Var.
The number of Chinese studying in France exploded from only 2,000 in 1999 to 22,452 in 2007, making them the second biggest foreign student population behind Morocco.