Univer­sity tu­ition hike un­war­ranted

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The in­crease in univer­sity tu­ition fees, in some cases more than 40 per­cent, has caused a stir, with some crit­ics even see­ing it as a threat to the prom­ise of pro­vid­ing equal op­por­tu­ni­ties to ur­ban and ru­ral stu­dents.

Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties are known for squan­der­ing money on pro­jects that don’t ben­e­fit stu­dents, such as ex­trav­a­gant build­ings, over­staffed ad­min­is­tra­tive de­part­ments, and govern­ment­funded re­search pro­grams. Whether or not the in­crease in tu­ition fees is jus­ti­fied de­pends on whether the cost of higher ed­u­ca­tion is rea­son­able.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, univer­sity tu­ition fees are usu­ally less that 20 per­cent of the per capita dis­pos­able in­come of a coun­try or re­gion. Bing Qi, a com­men­ta­tor on ed­u­ca­tion, says in an ar­ti­cle in Bei­jing Youth Daily that cal­cu­la­tions show the bur­den of higher ed­u­ca­tion on house­holds re­mains high de­spite the in­crease in av­er­age in­come in re­cent years.

Univer­sity tu­ition fees were kept around 5,000 yuan ($812) a year since 2006. In 2007, when the gov­ern­ment im­posed a five-year mora­to­rium on rais­ing univer­sity fees from the 2006 lev­els, the cost of higher ed­u­ca­tion was more than 40 per­cent of ur­ban res­i­dents’ per capita dis­pos­able in­come. Bing says 5,000 yuan to­day ac­counts for 18 per­cent of ur­ban res­i­dents’ per capita dis­pos­able in­come and 56 per­cent that of the ru­ral res­i­dents. There­fore, tu­ition fees should be re­duced, not in­creased.

Public uni­ver­si­ties are sup­posed to of­fer low cost ed­u­ca­tion be­cause they are run on tax­pay­ers’ money, Bing says. If they are short of funds, they should turn to the gov­ern­ment for help in­stead of dig­ging holes in the pock­ets of stu­dents and their par­ents.

In an ar­ti­cle on cqnews.net, a news por­tal of Chongqing mu­nic­i­pal­ity, in­de­pen­dent com­men­ta­tor Yuxi Feng­guang says that uni­ver­si­ties are used to get­ting easy money. Be­fore 1994, all uni­ver­si­ties in the coun­try were fully run on gov­ern­ment funds that cov­ered both stu­dents’ tu­ition fees and liv­ing costs. Af­ter the higher ed­u­ca­tion ex­pan­sion ini­tia­tive started in 1999, uni­ver­si­ties be­gan tak­ing easy loans from banks to sup­port their ever-ex­pand­ing costs. And now that the mora­to­rium has ex­pired, they have de­cided to make some ex­tra money at the cost of stu­dents. In fact, the ease with which uni­ver­si­ties have been mak­ing money is the rea­son why they have not tried to re­duce their waste­ful spend­ing.

The hike in tu­ition fees will hurt stu­dents from low-in­come families the most, es­pe­cially be­cause the backup mech­a­nism for such stu­dents is not strong enough, writes Zhang Shaox­iong, a pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at Cen­tral South Univer­sity, in Chengdu Busi­ness Daily.

Stu­dents have to go through a com­pli­cated pro­ce­dure to get a bank loan to fund their ed­u­ca­tion and need to pay back the amount within a cer­tain pe­riod af­ter grad­u­a­tion. In com­par­i­son, a stu­dent in the US goes through some sim­ple steps to get a bank loan and is rarely forced to pay back within a short pe­riod, Zhang says.

Higher ed­u­ca­tion has be­come less of a public ser­vice and more of a busi­ness since uni­ver­si­ties be­gan charg­ing tu­ition in the late 1990s, Li Qi, a pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at Bei­jingNor­mal Univer­sity, has been quoted in Bei­jing Youth Daily as having said.

Stu­dents and their families ex­pect to get their money’s worth from uni­ver­si­ties. Judg­ing by the cur­rent low em­ploy­ment rate of fresh grad­u­ates, uni­ver­si­ties have been found want­ing on that front. No won­der, peo­ple are ques­tion­ing the logic be­hind the rise in tu­ition fees.

Per­haps the gov­ern­ment should make it manda­tory for uni­ver­si­ties to make public their de­tailed fi­nan­cial re­ports be­fore seek­ing more funds or hik­ing tu­ition fees, be­cause only proper public su­per­vi­sion can stop them from mak­ing stu­dents pay for their un­nec­es­sary ex­pen­di­ture. The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. yangz­i­man@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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