Cost rise hits students as university fees freeze ends

The end of a government-imposed five-year ban on university tuition fee rises has seen annual fees for some degrees rise by up to 50% this year in China, official sources have reported.

Education authorities in 10 provinces have ‘renewed’ university and college tuition fee guidelines, China’s official radio reported last Tuesday.

In some cases the fee rises are the first in almost a decade or even longer as some provinces had frozen fees prior to the government’s 2007 ban. The ban on fee rises was an attempt to rein in the over-expansion of universities.

Many universities fell heavily into debt in the past decade due to huge building projects to expand the number of places, and had to be bailed out by the central government.

But the pendulum may have swung too far, with the rising cost of running colleges and universities contributing to recent sharp increases in some provincial government debts and some campus services operating at a loss and in some cases unable to pay private service providers for canteen facilities and student accommodation services, for example.

Students from five universities in Hunan province have demonstrated in the streets in recent years. On one occasion two years ago they protested over substandard services after a private management company switched off power in student dormitories to save money.

Service charge fees to private companies in the province had been frozen since 2003 to curb rampant profiteering and reduce public debt.


The affluent southeastern province of Zhejiang held a public hearing in July for their first proposed tuition fee hike since 2000, which would apply to all of the province’s 60 public colleges.

The total debt of Zhejiang's public higher education institutions had risen to CNY9.5 billion (US$1.5 billion) as of the end of 2013, official statistics showed.

Zhejiang provincial guidelines have set tuition fees for medicine and engineering degrees at top universities in the province to increase to CNY6,300 (US$1,025) per year from the current CNY4,800 (US$781) – an increase of just over 30%.

Smaller institutions would be allowed to charge CNY5,800, up 46% from the current CNY3,960 for some subjects.

The education department in neighbouring Jiangsu province this year sanctioned an increase in tuition fees for some subjects – including medicine, engineering and liberal arts – by up to 17.2% from about CNY4,600 ($748) to CNY5,500 a year.

Wang Lupei, director of the financial bureau of Jiangsu's education department, said tuition fees “have not been adjusted” in Jiangsu for 14 years.

“Those funds need to cover teachers' salaries, establish laboratories and purchase equipment. To make up the shortfall, the universities have repeatedly asked to raise tuition,” Wang was quoted in the official China Daily as saying.

Other provinces including Shandong and Fujian have already approved fee rises of 20% to 36% this year.

In some provinces the authorities had frozen rents for university accommodation as well – in Henan these rents had not risen since 2000 for the province’s 50 higher education institutions – eroding the ability of universities to reduce debts.

Students can apply for higher loans because of increases in tuition fees, according to a government circular issued this month.

Students can seek a maximum of CNY8,000 (about US$1,300) in loans per person each year, according to the circular released by the ministries of finance and education, the People's Bank of China and China Banking Regulatory Commission.

The new limit is an increase of CNY2,000 from the previous limit set in 2002.