CHINA'S State Education Commission has vowed to protect the rights and anonymity of university students infected with HIV. A spokesman for the commission's public health department confirmed yesterday some students in Beijing had tested positive for HIV but said the commission had a firm policy of not releasing the names, numbers or colleges of those affected. 'If such information is made public, we fear it could have a destabilising effect on the colleges concerned,' the spokesman said. 'In a previous case, one student was forced to leave his university after the school authorities were informed of his condition.' The spokesman was highly critical of a report in yesterday's Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News which claimed 10 students in two of Beijing's elite colleges had been infected with HIV. 'There are some cases of HIV but certainly not so many,' he said. 'When we are interviewed by reporters we never reveal the numbers or the colleges of those infected, so I really don't know where this newspaper could have got its figures from.' He said the commission had already contacted the Beijing Public Health Department with regard to the known cases of HIV in the capital's colleges and was currently devising a plan on how best to handle the situation. Medical experts in Beijing said that the commission's determination to protect the rights of students with HIV was a positive sign and marked an important change in thinking in a country where the right to privacy has never been very high on the agenda. 'If the authorities can handle these cases with sensitivity and allow students with HIV to continue with their studies free from recrimination then that will be a very positive development indeed,' a Western doctor in Beijing said yesterday. The education commission is planning to step up its AIDS awareness programme in universities throughout Beijing next semester.