Some students allowed home after campus lockdown protests

Chinese authorities say they have begun to ‘ease’ some draconian rules for university students in cities affected by strict COVID-19 lockdowns, which prompted protests on several campuses.

This includes easing food supplies to campuses, an issue that sparked much discontent.

Students from campuses in Beijing and elsewhere that have been affected by unrest are being allowed to return home, while others have been dispersed to cities outside Beijing.

City authorities are saying students are being distributed to quarantine areas. However, many students believe it is a measure to quell campus unrest amid general nervousness at this time of year over student protests in the run up to the anniversary of the 4 June Tiananmen Square crackdown on student protesters in Beijing in 1989.

University and local government officials have been ordered to calm campus unrest, including allowing students at Beijing universities to leave campus before the semester end and return home, sources said.

The elite Tsinghua and Peking universities in the capital have both offered students the option to return home, according to students.

Students can apply to return to their hometowns if they have completed their semester courses or can complete the courses at home, and can show special family or health circumstances, Beijing Normal University said in a communication to students.

The move followed unrest at a Peking University residential compound last month over efforts to wall students in and separate students from staff and faculty.

Unrest also hit Beijing International Studies University, China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, and Beijing Normal University in May, with all classes suspended at these universities in the past week.

Peking University authorities removed the half-constructed metal fence after the protest. Tsinghua University also reinforced a fence around the campus with metal sheets, preventing food deliveries from getting through.

A message to students at Peking University urged them not to “make trouble” if they choose to stay on campus.

One student said students were being interrogated about the protests by university authorities, who had demanded information on who had taken part. “Some students want to return home because they are afraid of consequences from the protests,” he said on condition of anonymity.

According to social media posts, several universities in Beijing have reopened campus canteens after widespread student anger over inadequate food supplies. While this has been welcomed by students, some questioned why this is only being done now.

“It is as if they want to placate us now,” a Peking University student said. She noted that students had been warned by the university authorities not to complain about food and other lockdown issues.

Schools, universities still subject to tough restrictions

Some restrictions are gradually easing in Beijing and Shanghai after harsh lockdown measures under the country’s zero-COVID policy, with limited public transport services allowed to resume in both cities.

However, schools and universities are still subject to tough restrictions. Universities in Shanghai have been in lockdown since mid-March.

Beijing Education Commission spokesman Li Yi said towards the end of May that universities were key areas of epidemic control and campuses needed to remain closed, but universities could be flexible and allow students to return to their hometowns.

“Students can return to their homes and hometowns in a safe and orderly manner… Students need to be guided with good protection and return directly to their families in closed-loop management,” Li said, referring to localised restrictions.

Exam concerns

But the move to allow students to return home has sparked further complaints, with the schedules for final examinations up in the air as a result of continued lockdowns.

Some students said they also feared not being allowed back to campus for the new semester. Others said they were concerned about examinations if they leave.

Beijing Normal University said last week that exams would be held online, noting that a large number of students had left the campus for home.

Students at Tianjin University, two hours from Beijing by train, protested on campus in late May about lockdown restrictions, demanding information about exam arrangements and continuation of classes.

“We received no information at all from the university,” one student told University World News.

“We are in distress about our studies and whether exams will be held, but there is no communication,” another student said. “There is no date for exams. It is not clear that if we go home we could miss our exams.”

Students said parts of Tianjin University have been under lockdown since early January, with students confined to dormitories and no information on when restrictions would end.

Gaokao to go ahead

Meanwhile Li Yi of the Beijing Education Commission said at a press conference that authorities have made plans to ensure a safe Gaokao, as the national college entrance examination is known.

The exam is due to begin in the Chinese capital on 7 June, with 54,000 students registered to take it. A record 11.93 million students are registered to take the exam at 330,000 sites, official media said.

Shanghai, which is only this week beginning to ease a strict lockdown that began on 1 April, postponed the college entrance exam until 7 July – a month later. Students will only be able to sit the exam after daily COVID-19 tests.

Although this is the third year the Gaokao is going ahead under pandemic conditions, Vice-premier Sun Chunlan was reported by official media as saying that students who will take the exam this year have spent more time at home preparing than those in previous years, and face a greater workload and mental pressure.

Chinese high school students who want to enter universities abroad have also been affected by the latest COVID-19 disruptions.