High-Schoolers March Over Fees

Students at a northern Chinese school protest over a 'random' plan to hike heating fees.
2013-01-29
Email story
Comment on this story
Share story
Print story
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Email
china-students-march-305.gif
A section of the protesting students at Xin county in Shanxi province, Jan. 28, 2013.
Photo courtesy of a netizen.

Authorities at a high school in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi promised to cancel an increase in heating charges on Tuesday after hundreds of students ditched class and staged protests over high utility bills, school officials said.

Up to 1,000 students at the Xin county No. 3 High School in Lulian city had marched to county government offices on Monday to protest at what they called "random" heating fees and charges.

Photos uploaded to social media sites showed students climbing in over the high fence of the government compound, after they were refused permission to enter the gates.

An employee who answered the phone at the Xin county police department said the march had been orderly and peaceful.

"Things didn't get too heated, and no-one was injured," the employee said. "The students' mood was calm, and they have already gone back to class."

"They were mostly senior high school students, and it was organized by them; they were all about 15 or 16, in the second year of senior high school," he said.

"The police who came back from the scene said that it was over a rise in the heating fees for the school," the employee added.

The school appeared to react quickly to appease the students, however.

"We have already decided that the [heating] fees will remain at their original level," a spokesperson for the Xin County No. 3 High School said on Tuesday. "We won't be raising the fees now."

Parents involved

Eyewitnesses also said the students had marched alongside some parents to the government.

"We know that they went to the county government to make a complaint, and that it was about random and excessive fees and charges," a shop owner near the school said.

An official who answered the phone at the Xin county government offices confirmed the protest had taken place.

"The students and parents were just coming to make clear their demands," the official said."

"The education department is involved [in mediating the dispute] now," the official said. "But the parents seem to think the county government is omnipotent. All we can do is play a mediating role."

But he added: "The education department is now looking into the matter, to judge whether or not the fees are reasonable."

Regulations

The official said the majority of fees charged by state-run schools were dictated by regulations, however.

"However, there are some fees and charges that aren't covered by the system, so the schools can set those for themselves."

Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said that unreasonable and arbitrary fees were commonplace in China.

"There's not enough funding coming down from higher levels of government, and prices just keep on rising, so schools are having to spend more and more," Sun said.

"Resources are unfairly divided, with some key schools receiving the lion's share, forcing other schools to put up fees," he said. "Some charge more, others a bit less."

"For example, the cost of heating the school is paid by the students," he said.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.