Fees for primary and junior secondary school pupils in rural areas are to be standardised from next year in another attempt to ease the financial burden on farmers. Quoting sources from the State Development and Reform Commission, Xinhua said yesterday the schools must stop collecting money other than the standardised school fee. Although the new measure is aimed at reducing the financial burden faced by rural families, a rural expert cautioned that students from poor areas might not benefit due to wide income disparities between coastal and inland areas. The 'one-fee' system has been tested in some regions since 2001. Last year, the fee for a primary pupil was set at 160 yuan (HK$150) a year and 240 yuan for a junior secondary student. The system covers the period of compulsory education in rural areas - the nine years from primary to junior secondary school. Zhang Xiaoshan, director of the Rural Development Research Centre under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said the government should provide free education to children in rural areas. 'The so-called compulsory education is not compulsory in practice. The government should waive all fees on students in poor areas so that they can have a real education,' Dr Zhang said. 'A standardised fee has different meanings to students in different areas. It may be the most efficient option in terms of administration but it may not be fair because of the income disparity.' It was not clear from the Xinhua report how the government would finance the programme. At present, county governments are responsible for teachers' wages. The central government has been active in introducing measures to reduce the financial burden on farmers. It has begun to promote a tax-for-fee reform that replaced a host of levies and fees on farmers with a standardised tax.