Wang Xu, a member of the ninth Qinghai Provincial People's Political Consultative Conference, called for a stop to rising education fees at its third session. He said students in poor areas couldn't afford their college education and did not benefit in terms of employment.
According to Wang, since 2000 education fees have risen 15 percent, with some areas going up by 20 percent. Students' expenses at universities have also increased, and although poorer students are attending due to college expansion, many find the costs involved prohibitive.
There were 6,841 students at Qinghai Normal University last year, including 4,167 from families with incomes below local urban poor subsistence allowances. Of these, 2,908 were from families with annual incomes of less than 1,500 yuan (US$181).
Wang said students have to spend at least 7,000 yuan (US$845.76) per year, including 3,000 yuan on fees, 3,000 yuan for daily expenses, 800 yuan for dormitory accommodation and 400 yuan for books.
He pointed out that in 1992 there were 592 counties where average incomes were below the national average, but 307 of these were in the west of China. In 2002, the rural population of the country's 12 western provinces and autonomous regions was 280 million, with annual per capita income of 1,771 yuan (US$214). However, in the poorer counties annual per capita income was no more than 800 yuan (US$97).
In these counties, the lowest annual expenses for a student at Qinghai Normal University equaled nine farmers' total income. A student has to spend 28,000 yuan (US$3,383) to complete a bachelor's degree, equivalent to a farmer's total income in 35 years. At these costs, it is impossible for a poor family of four to afford it.
Though many measures, including the expansion of the student loan scheme, have been adopted to help poor students, they and their families still have to take on a heavy economic burden. Some have to sell all they own and even borrow money to pay for a college education.
There were 25,000 students at universities and colleges in the east of Qinghai Province in 2003. Over half of these came from rural areas. Their annual expenses totaled 200 million yuan (US$24 million) -- over 10 percent of total annual income of all farmers in the east of the province.
An increasing number of students graduating from universities cannot find a job in western China due to the local economy's slow development. Many graduates from rural areas have no hope of paying back their student loans without employment, and there is a saying in these areas that more undergraduates mean more families in poverty.
Of the 6,524 students who graduated between 2000 and 2003, 4,194 still hadn't secured work. Many of the 2,330 who had were on low incomes, leading many farmers to believe that higher education offers more losses than gains.
After struggling for years to pay for their children's education, they've seen them return to the same lives as them with no advantages.
Wang said this loss of confidence in education among parents in rural areas is one reason that more and more children discontinue middle school in the west of China.
He suggested that a system of public hearings on education fees should be set up, and more government funds invested in education. Controls on education fees should be strengthened and preferential polices on student loans brought into effect for the western region.
He also recommended a focus on vocational and technical education instead of college expansion, and government help for graduates to find employment and learn new skills.
(China.org.cn by Wu Nanlan, January 28, 2005)