Debt closes mainland rural schools

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 September, 2004, 12:00am

Some dilapidated centres operate in the dark because they can't afford to pay their electricity bills

Rural schools in the mainland are being forced to close because of excessive debts, a survey by the China Education Daily has found.

The survey of 174 officials from cities and counties from 30 provinces found that more than half of the rural schools had difficulties coping with daily expenses. Some schools operated in the dark because they were unable to pay electricity bills.

About 60 per cent of the dilapidated schools in China have been denied public funds for reconstruction as well, according to the officials. Due to teacher and funding shortages, class sizes were expanded at many rural schools under the government's drive for compulsory education.

Many municipal governments have expanded the scale of senior secondary school without granting extra funding.

The officials were interviewed and asked to fill in questionnaires, and held group discussions on education issues faced in rural areas.

They agreed that there was an imbalanced distribution of resources in both counties and cities, increased stratification in the education system and that children from poor families were vulnerable.

Mark Bray, dean of the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Education, cited in his recently published paper Reducing the Burden on the Poor, which focused on basic education in the impoverished province of Gansu, findings confirming the view that children from poor families had a greater chance of dropping out.

Provincial households bore about a third of the costs of junior secondary education, paying expenses including textbooks.

Despite the government's policy of providing free textbooks for students in rural areas, subsidies often fell short because the allocations were based on student enrolment figures in 1999.

Schools had to spread the financial assistance thinly due to enrolment increases.

Professor Bray also noted that parents' perception of the usefulness of school education affected how long a child stayed in school.

Premier Wen Jiabao was briefed by education officials at a State Council standing committee this week on measures to help impoverished university students complete their studies.

Close co-operation among government departments, state financial organisations and higher education institutions was needed to ensure poorer students had access to tertiary education, the meeting was told.

Mr Wen also heard plans to increase the amount of bursaries for outstanding students with financial difficulties.

Higher education institutions will be asked to allocate a certain proportion of their overall budgets to provide assistance for the financially-strapped, and tighten up their regulations to avoid imposing unnecessary fees on students.

Municipal authorities will also be called on to increase the supply of student loans.

In a bid to encourage banks to extend credit to students, mainland authorities will set up a risk reserve fund to provide banks with guarantees on a certain percentage of the loans they grant.

Tang Shuangning, deputy director of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, told the media this week that the fund would equal about 10 per cent of the student loans granted by banks.

Students will be allowed to start repaying the loans one or two years after graduating, instead of immediately.

In addition, the repayment period has been extended from four to six years.