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Beijing Ushers in All-in-one School Fees

Hoping to eliminate random school fees, Beijing has introduced an all-in-one payment system.

Random fees have long been a thorn on the side of parents who sent their sons and daughters back to school Wednesday.

The all-in-one payment, including charges for textbooks, exercise-books and tuition fees, applies to compulsory education which covers six years in primary school and three years in junior middle school, said the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education.

After a public hearing early last month, the fee for every urban student was set at between 178 yuan to 335 yuan (US$21.5-40.5) per semester based on different grades, and the charges for each rural student range between 138 yuan and 305 yuan (US$16.7-37).

Wang Yan, an official with the education commission, said each of the three items included in the fixed-fee payment remains at the same level as last year.

Schools are not allowed to charge students in other respects.

The all-in-one payment was first adopted in the country's poverty-stricken rural areas in 2001.

Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that the fixed payment system has helped reduce the economic burden on rural families by about 1.7 billion yuan (US$206 million) in the past three years.

Besides Beijing, other provinces and regions in the country are required by the ministry to adopt the fixed-payment system this autumn.

The ultimate goal is to eliminate random charges, and is certainly good news for millions of students and their families, said a middle-aged woman, Liu Xiangyun, living in Haidian District of Beijing.

But there are still things to worry about behind this rosy picture, said Liu.

"Actually, this single payment cannot be one sum for all."

Having a son studying at a prestigious middle school, Liu said the expenses of the items included in the fixed-fee payment are just a very small part of the total educational costs of her son.

"It is a common thing in Beijing that parents spend tens of thousands of yuan to send their children to key schools for a better education. The expensive bill, which is not calculated in tuition, textbook and exercise book fees, is rooted in the unbalanced distribution of teaching staff, apparently cannot be resolved through the simple payment of school fees," said Liu.

Zhang Hong, a representative at the city's public hearing on the all-in-one payment, said educational authorities should pay more attention on the extra charges beyond the items listed in the fixed-amount payment.

"Equipment fees, residence archive fees, newspaper and magazines fees, additional lessons fees... you name it," said Zhang.

Other parents said they think the fixed-amount charge is unsuitable in developed cities like Beijing, because it cannot meet the increasing demand for a better learning environment from students and their families, and also limits initiatives by schools to develop extra-curricular activities or quality educational experiences.

Insiders say that without sufficient funding for schools, the fixed-fee collection practice alone can hardly curb the problem of rampant excessive charging of fees nationwide.

Past experiences in many schools, especially those in poverty-stricken areas, show that government subsidies often fail to bridge the gap between fees collected and expenses needed. Some of these schools, as a result, have to collect extra money from students to keep the school running, say experts.

(China Daily September 2, 2004)

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