Universities told to hold canteen prices down

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 November, 2010, 12:00am

Beijing education authorities have given strict orders to universities to keep a lid on canteen food prices despite rising costs.

The Beijing Education Commission, which oversees more than 30 universities in the capital, said it had long ago ordered universities not to raise canteen food prices and recently stressed they should pay special attention to the issue in the face of soaring market prices.

'We told them that if you lose money on canteens, we will give you subsidies, but you just can't raise prices,' a spokesman said.

He denied the move was linked to a riot in a Guizhou high school triggered by a rise in canteen prices, but he said that the city government was on high alert regarding the impact of rising food costs on students.

'Many university students who study in Beijing are from poor or rural families and their lives will be greatly affected by price increases, which is the major concern of our policy,' he said. Across the mainland, higher food bills are cutting deeply into the budgets of the working poor. In large cities such as Beijing, some residents have seen prices for basics such as rice, cooking oil and vegetables jump day by day over the past few months.

High food prices have caught the attention of residents and ways to trim budgets have become hot topics online. One recommendation is for office workers to go to nearby universities for lunch.

Canteen food prices, ranging from a 40 fen (45 HK cents) bun to 30 fen porridge, have been kept unchanged since 2007, the last time serious inflation stalked the mainland. The education commission has been giving subsidies to universities and is now considering raising them.

It is also studying how to limit non-student visitors' access to campus canteens. An official in charge of the eight canteens at the North China University of Technology said they had been losing a total of 100,000 yuan to 200,000 yuan a month recently.

'The education commission has told us repeatedly not to raise prices and we have been obeying the order by losing money,' the official said. 'To provide options for students from low-income families, all the eight canteens at the university have supplies of low-priced dishes, such as vegetables which cost 80 fen. A dish with meat is sold at 3.50 yuan and a bun for 40 fen. We also have to maintain the same portion sizes.'

The central government is facing a major task in taming runaway inflation - the consumer price index jumped 4.4 per cent last month, the biggest rise in more than two years.

Inflation fears are always of concern to the government due to the potential for price rises to trigger social unrest. The inflation in the 1980s was one of the major reasons for the 1989 student movement in Tiananmen, analysts said.

The State Council announced last week that it would move to stabilise prices by cracking down on speculators and boosting supplies of some staples from government stocks. Beijing also urged local authorities to provide food subsidies to the neediest families. It did not rule out price controls for key products such as vegetables, grain and coal and other energy supplies.

The National Development and Reform Commission said yesterday it would conduct price checks in 18 provinces and cities from the end of this month to December 20, with the aim of stabilising prices.

Keeping the lid on

Inflation pushed the consumer price index up last month by its biggest jump in two years of: 4.4%