Peking University severed ties last week with a high-profile women's rights advocacy group under its auspices, sending further chills through the mainland's NGO community, which fears a new era of tightened government control. In a public notice dated March 25 on the university's website, the social sciences faculty announced it was 'cancelling' four research institutes set up under its name, and that any further actions carried out by them would have nothing to do with the university. The four institutes include three from the law department - the Women's Legal Research and Services Centre, the Public Law Research Centre and the Constitution Research Centre - and one from the media department, the Finance News Research Centre. The dean of social sciences, Cheng Yuzhui, told Beijing Youth Daily yesterday that the cancellations were just routine restructuring of the university's research institutes, removing 'some institutes that no longer suit the current trend'. The Public Law Research Centre was an obsolete shell, having been renamed the Constitutional and Administrative Law Research Centre in 2002, according to the latter's chief, Professor Jiang Mingan . The Constitution Research Centre has not conducted any research in the past two years. The Finance News Research Centre, with former Caijing editor Hu Shuli as one of its chief advisers, was once a high-profile institute. But its chief, Xu Hong, confirmed that the 'cancelling' of the centre was due to the need to make way for a new multimedia research centre, Caing.com reported. However, the rationale for the 'cancellation' of the Women's Legal Research and Services Centre is more dubious, sparking concern and anger among non-governmental organisations and rights activists. 'I'm very shocked and confused, and above all, I feel very sad,' said lawyer Guo Jianmei , one of the four founders of the centre. 'We have been serving society and bringing glory to the university for the past 15 years. What have we done wrong? 'I feel sad for the future of public interest lawyers in China, and the future of NGOs.' The centre was set up in 1995 and has handled more than 70,000 women's rights cases, including 2,600 legal aid cases, according to its website. In recent years, it has become increasingly high-profile, offering legal advice in hotly discussed cases such as that of Deng Yujiao , the hotel hostess who stabbed to death an official who was trying to rape her, as well as holding seminars to raise women's awareness of their rights, training public interest lawyers, and calling for legal reforms. Sources close to the centre said the 'cancellation' announcement did not come as a surprise since it had been warned by the university more than six months ago to focus on research and drop its involvement in high-profile cases.