Suicides raise concerns at universities

China’s universities are becoming increasingly concerned about preventing student suicides as the job market for graduates tightens and students run out of hope for the future.

Shenzhen University in southern China pledged this week to introduce “the necessary measures” to prevent student suicides after a final-year finance student jumped to his death from the 15th floor of his student accommodation building on 21 October.

The university said the measures would include psychological counselling for students.

Just a day later, on 22 October, Guangzhou Daily reported on its microblog site that a female student had jumped off a Guangzhou University campus building.

China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that suicide has become the top cause of death among young people aged 15 to 34 years. The medical profession has noted that the prime cause is education stress.

One of the leading factors, according to Chinese researchers – and acknowledged by the Ministry of Education – is the difficult job market for graduates.

This is coupled with the huge sacrifices made by families, particularly those from rural areas, to fund higher education for their children, which fuels deep shame when students feel they are not living up to expectations by securing high marks or a good graduate job.

Guangzhou medical researchers also reported that many Chinese students were overprotected by their parents, making it difficult for them to cope when leaving home to attend university.

With suicide still carrying a social stigma in China, it is difficult for students to seek help. But parents have also severely criticised universities.

The role and responses of universities was the focus of attention last month when it came to light that a university in Guangdong province – City College of Dongguan University of Technology – had asked new students to sign a suicide disclaimer.

More than 5,000 new students at the university signed the ‘contract’ stating that students bore “all responsibility” and “all consequences” if they committed suicide or injured themselves on campus while they were attending the university, according to local media reports.

University officials described it as a “dormitory code of conduct” and a “self-discipline agreement”. But the news report caused a storm on China’s microblogging site Sina Weibo, with parents slamming the university for abdicating in its duty to take care of students.

Psychologist Chen Xuefeng said: "I doubt it really works. In fact, I’m concerned this waiver could make the matter worse. When students come into the university they cannot feel the school cares for them and schools just shirk their responsibility."

Previously, when Jinan Times reported that some 20,000 students at Shandong Jianzhu University in Jinan had to sign an agreement clearing the university of any responsibility for self-inflicted injuries and suicide, it prompted public accusations of a lack of sensitivity.

The university’s officials later claimed it was not compulsory to sign the document, which was in part copied from Ministry of Education guidelines issued in 2002 after universities saw a rise in legal disputes with parents over campus accidents.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said in China Daily last month that it was “a simple and rough management measure” to ask students to sign suicide disclaimers.

He said universities should pay more attention to improving the living and study environments for students to prevent such cases.