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Student debtors named, shamed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2007, 12:00am

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A bank has caused a furore by placing two half-page announcements in a Guangzhou newspaper listing the personal details of 535 college graduates who owe it money.

In the Thursday announcement in the Yangcheng Evening News, the Guangdong branch of the Agricultural Bank of China said the former students - from 22 universities and colleges in the province - had failed to repay their national education loans nearly a year after the deadline passed, and had not contacted the bank after graduating.

Outraged students vented their anger in big website chat rooms, saying the release of the personal information, including the debtors' names, identification card numbers, university and amount owed, infringed on their privacy.

The education loan system was introduced in 1999 to help support students from poor families. Commercial banks, subsidised by Beijing, extend loans at discount rates.

Mainland media have reported in recent years that banks have had a tough time tracking down students who owed money but had moved to other places after graduating without contacting the banks.

'The amount is not great, with most students owing between 1,000 yuan and 10,000 yuan,' a manager in the bank's retail department said.

'Our purpose is to make the students pay attention to their credit records. Bad records will influence their whole life, as we are setting up a credit system with each borrower's information.'

Renmin University law professor Yang Lixin said the release of information was not illegal because the students were at fault.

'The unpaid loan problem is very serious,' he said. 'I've talked to banks and know students with debts. Banks have to find solutions.'

Gao Tongchun, a Peking University student, said he sympathised with the students, whom he said were the most honest group on the mainland. 'I've never seen or heard of any student deliberately not repaying.

'Many students are from rural areas, with sick parents and younger brothers and sisters to support. Many cannot find a high-paying job after graduation. In that case, they are unable to repay.'

Mr Gao, 24, said students were at a disadvantage compared with banks. 'Putting their names on the blacklist could influence their employment, career, ability to buy property and other things. It's a simple thing for the banks, but students will suffer.'

Xia Xueluan, a sociologist at Peking University, said while the bank had not broken the law, it should use a softer approach.

'The bank should be more considerate and allow the students a grace period before naming and shaming them,' he said.

'Students should contact the lender in time and assure it of their willingness to repay.'