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Two Decades Witness Changes of Education Fees
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Xiao Meiyuan hails from a small and remote village in Wangcheng County of Hunan Province. She clearly remembers that in the early 1980s, except for their traveling expenses, students in her village didn't pay any extra fees for their university education. Now, 17 years later, with 2,800 yuan (US$350) in tuition fees and 600 yuan (US$75) in accommodation charges, her son has gone to college.

The year of 1997 witnessed the national implementation of a self-funded higher education policy. At that time college students began to contribute part of their education fees.

And now? According to Vice Education Minister Zhang Baoqing, after the state's studies into an average school's annual costs, the per capita education fees range from 14,000 yuan (US$1,750) to 10,000 yuan (US$1,250). Students are required to pay for nearly a quarter of the total amount, 3,500 yuan (US$437.5).

But in fact, college charges in the Guangxi Autonomous Region ranged from 5,000 yuan (US$625) to 6,000 yuan (US$750) while the average charge standard for Shanghai's universities and colleges is 5,000 yuan (US$625) per academic year.

Statistics from Professor Wang Shanmai, director of the Research Center of Education Economics under Beijing Normal University, showed that the average growth rate during 1993 and 1997 was 27.65 percent. In 1999, the tuition fees reached 2,769 yuan (US$346), jumping about 40.3 percent higher than in 1998.

The charges kept soaring. In 2000, the average education costs were up to 5,000 yuan (US$625) and accommodation charges increased from 200-300 yuan (US$25—37.5) to around 1,000 yuan (US$125).

According to Professor Chai Xiaowu from Zhejiang University, with the widening income gap and the increase of laid-off workers, education fees have become a heavy financial burden for an ordinary family. "For impoverished families, the situation is much worse," he added.

Researcher Jiang Xiaohui from Jiangsu University found in her research that in 2001 education costs consumed about 153.75 percent of the average annual income of rural residents. But in 2003 the figure rose to 173.98 percent.

Professor Qin Hui from Tsinghua University calculated that, based on the average net income of 2004 residents, supporting one college student is equivalent to five-year's net income of an urban resident or 13.6-year's net income of a rural resident.

Additionally, all universities - from prestigious to common - charge the same fees in the same region while students from developed provinces or regions might even pay less money than those from the western part of China.

For instance, the average tuition fees for the arts in Zhejiang Province in 2002 was 4,000-4,800 yuan (US$500-600) while charges for the sciences ranged from 4,400 yuan (US$550) to 4,800 yuan (US$600). In Jiangsu both were 4,600 yuan (US$575). In contrast, in Shanxi Province fees ranged from 3,500-4,950 yuan (US$437.5-618.8) to 4,500-6,000 yuan (US$562.5-750). Financial figures in Gansu Province were 4,200-5,400 yuan (US$525-675) and 4,200-4,800 yuan (US$525-600)

Significantly, applying for state educational loans was also not easy in the past.

To resolve this issue, the government has stipulated that without the formal approval of Chinese educational authorities, tuition fees and accommodations should be maintained as much as those in 2000; they cannot be raised arbitrarily. Accommodation charges must be restricted to 1,200 yuan or under (US$150) per academic year.

Researcher Jiang Xiaohui pointed out that higher education is a public service and there is no doubt that all the beneficiaries should share the education costs. But she also highlighted two principles – the ability to pay and the choice of major calculated in terms of future financial success. Education fees should not be generally raised but any increase should be based on the actual investment and future benefit of the major provided by the school.

Professor Chai Xiaowu stressed that the development of China's higher education cannot be dependant upon student capital. He urged the government to earmark more funds for education.

(China.org.cn by Wang Ke September 11, 2007)

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