University tuition hike unwarranted

Updated: 2014-08-29 07:39

By Yang Ziman(China Daily)

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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 government-funded 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, 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 Beijing Normal 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.

(China Daily 08/29/2014 page9)