Chinese students riot after diplomas branded useless

Riot police have been sent to a college campus in China after a protest by students led to looting and vandalism.

Riot police have been sent to a college campus in China after a protest by students led to looting and vandalism.

The violence at the Clothing Vocational College in Jiangxi province was the second case of serious campus unrest in less than six months to be sparked by accusations that profit-orientated education authorities had deceived students about the value of their diplomas.

No domestic news organisation reported the demonstration. Censors have previously blocked coverage of student protests, which have been considered politically sensitive since the Tiananmen Square massacre in response to protests in 1989.

Students said a large crowd, filling almost two-thirds of a football pitch, had staged a demonstration on Monday and demanded to meet the college authorities, prompting clashes with the police.

"There were about 60 riot police. I heard some students attacked them," a female student who gave only her surname, Chen, told the Guardian. "Classes have been suspended since the start of protests. We were supposed to start lessons again today but no one attended. We don't know what to do. Many people want to quit school."

Police told Reuters that the students had "committed extreme acts such as vandalising and looting". Students blamed the theft of computers and the smashing of office windows on locals who had sneaked into the campus during the disturbance.

Unlike student protests 15 years ago, most recent campus disturbances have been prompted by concerns about the value of degrees, not politics. Many undergraduates are disgruntled about the increasing cost of education, the selling of diplomas and the tight job market for graduates.

This week's riot broke out within hours of the broadcast of a TV documentary that accused the privately run college of massive over-enrolment and deception of students to boost its revenues. According to the investigation, about 20,000 students had been recruited in the past three years by promising them diplomas the school was not qualified to award.

In June police used water cannon to disperse a violent protest by thousands of students at Shengda Economics, Trade and Management College in Henan province. The demonstration was prompted by a government attempt to downgrade the students' qualifications.

Such problems are increasingly common in the market-driven education system, where many prestigious state-run institutions have established subsidiary - and often legally murky - private schools to generate more income.

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, education, formerly free, is now the biggest expense for the average household.

One report by the academy noted that the commercialisation of education had led to "a serious collapse of its public reputation".

The rapid expansion of higher education has created a glut of graduates. Government figures suggest three out of five university leavers will fail to find a job.


Jonathan Watts in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

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