Education “like shopping for clothes” says Ministry spokesperson
Education | Governance and Social Policy | Media
An official spokesman’s stout defense of rising inequality in educational opportunity “has triggered a wide and fierce debate in society” according to the English language magazine, Beijing Review.
“It is natural that not everyone can afford excellent education resources. It is like shopping for clothing. A well-off man can go to a brand-name store to buy a 10,000 yuan suit, while a poor person can buy a 100 yuan suit from a vendor,” the state-run news magazine quotes Ministry of Education spokesperson, Wang Xuming, as saying in March.
According to the magazine, Wang “argued that the Chinese people should change their mindset over the tuition issue,” especially with respect to soaring college and university fees. These, say the magazine, have risen 25-fold in 20 years, with the total cost of a first degree (including food and board) now averaging over CNY 40,000 (USD 5,000).
Education beyond the compulsory, nine years of schooling should be regarded as a form of consumption, the magazine quotes Wang as saying; “and like any other consumption item, educational consumption should depend on one’s economic capability and intelligence. Excellent educational resources, such as Peking University and Tsinghua University . . . are scarce and should be priced at a higher level.”
The official’s remarks, more reminiscent of Milton Friedman than of Karl Marx or Mao Zedong, caused a stir in the Chinese domestic media. Beijing Review reflects the controversy in its March 30 edition with selected vox pop comments.
“Since ancient times in China, intelligence and capacity have been regarded as the only criteria, being the fairest ones, for selecting talent” fulminates one Zhou Zhinan, described as a freelance writer. “Therefore,” Zhou continues, “We wonder whether today’s wealth standard is a victory of the market economy or the degradation of the consciousness of fairness.” In Zhou’s view, because taxpayers fund state investments, “scarce, high quality educational resources should belong to all people.”
However, a person named as Bei Hai, described by the magazine as “a Beijing resident”, agreed with the Ministry spokesman, suggesting “Maybe we could advocate a simple lifestyle . . . Let people know that their consumption should be based on how much they can earn. I think in this way our society will have fewer tragedies of people committing suicide because they are unable to go to university or paying tuition by selling blood.”
Beijing Review was established in 1958, at the bidding of then Premier, Zhou Enlai. Recent facelifts have given the magazine a more internationalised edge and it frequently offers more detailed and nuanced reporting than other Chinese print media aimed at an international readership.
Report by Nick Young, April 8 2006