In June 2021, students from Zhongbei College of Nanjing Normal University protested against the proposed “merger and transfer” of their school with another vocational school, and those chanting slogans on the campus were subjected to police violence, with some students even bleeding and injured. The students’ protests were rewarded with red-headed documents from the Jiangsu Provincial Education Department and related institutions to “suspend” and “terminate” the merger, but some analysts say that the authorities’ apparent compromise may be to maintain stability, and that the students may also face the authorities’ The students may also face the authorities’ “autumn reckoning”. Other analysts say the protest reflects the inequality in China’s education structure and the problems in the advancement of education policy.
In June 2021, students shouted out their grievances and demands in the nighttime campus, “No to vocational education, give me back my bachelor’s degree. Punching, kicking and tearing their hair, these vigorous students, who should be swimming in the sea of knowledge, became the latest target and were surrounded by security guards.
In a video circulated on the Internet in June 2021, a student was forcibly dragged out of the crowd by three guards, who then “helped” by picking him up and throwing him to the side of the road, where he was quickly surrounded and scolded.
“Someone please save the student,” one user wrote: “China in 2021 can’t even fit a desk.”
Behind the protests and crackdowns is the “merger and transfer”
The incident was prompted by the Ministry of Education’s push to merge and transfer independent colleges and higher education institutions. China’s Ministry of Education issued a statement on its official website saying that the Ministry issued the “Implementation Plan on Accelerating the Transfer of Independent Colleges” in May last year, proposing the transfer path of “transferring to private, transferring to public, or terminating the school”, and at the same time also proposing “school within a school” for independent colleges. At the same time, for the “school within a school” independent colleges, “can explore the integration of the provincial high school education resources to transfer”. The Ministry of Education further said that after the issuance of the “Implementation Plan”, the progress of the transfer of independent colleges around the country has accelerated, and related work is being actively promoted.
In March this year, Jiangsu Provincial Department of Education published a public announcement that a total of five independent colleges, including Zhongbei College of Nanjing Normal University and five other vocational colleges in Jiangsu Province, would be merged and transferred to provincial public undergraduate schools in accordance with the relevant requirements of the Ministry of Education on the transfer of independent colleges. The list of 13 transfer institutions announced by China’s Ministry of Education on June 4 also includes the five independent colleges in Jiangsu province. The clash in the online video took place at one of the five colleges, Zhongbei College of Nanjing Normal University in Jiangsu Province.
Independent colleges under major universities in China have a very different admissions process from that of the major universities. Independent colleges usually have higher tuition fees but lower admissions scores. According to the China Education Online website, the lowest admission score for science at Nanjing Normal University in Jiangsu in 2020 was 382, 35 points above the provincial control line for the first batch of undergraduates. North Central College’s 2020 admissions in Jiangsu are for the second batch of undergraduates, with a minimum admissions score of 326 points in science.
Students of independent colleges are worried that merging and transferring will have a huge impact on their slow path of life after graduation. Weibo users said that after the merger, the degree will be changed from ordinary undergraduate degree to “vocational undergraduate”, “social recognition is not enough, the job market may encounter discrimination”. Netizens are also worried that the policy change will affect the editorial examinations, because most of the positions only accept full-time general undergraduate.
A netizen in the comments section of the Observer website, who identified himself as one of the parents of students from the five independent colleges involved in the merger and transfer, said that one of the root causes of the huge impact of the transfer in Jiangsu was “the lack of adequate communication with students and parents beforehand, and the use of bullying tactics to create a fait accompli.
Yang Dali, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, told the Voice of America that the students had certain expectations before enrolling, but now the change in policy has harmed their interests, which is why they are united against the change in policy. He said, “It’s really a matter of not thinking about the issue from the perspective of students and parents in particular during the policy-making process.”
China’s Ministry of Education clarified the issue of independent college conversion, saying that the “merged and converted” “vocational and technical university” belongs to vocational education in terms of type and undergraduate education in terms of level, cultivating high-level technical and technical talents needed by the country, and students will obtain a bachelor’s degree after graduation. After graduation, students will obtain a bachelor’s degree. The Ministry of Education also said that it will be handled properly in accordance with the principle of “old ways for old people and new ways for new people. “For students enrolled in the name of independent colleges before the transfer, they can use the name of the independent college to register, issue academic certificates and register their academic qualifications, and their employment and further studies will be carried out in accordance with the status of ordinary undergraduate graduates of the original independent college.
But all the explanations do not seem to dispel the students’ concerns, they still think that the transfer is unfair to them, and still worry that the change will affect their future studies and work.
According to videos and pictures from the Internet, the protesting students and police officers had a physical confrontation on the campus of North Central College of Nanjing Normal University, and one student was suspected to have suffered a bloody head injury.
In response to the police crackdown on the student protests, Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights lawyer in the United States, told VOA that the Chinese Communist Party’s slogan is “stability overrides everything,” and that they can use all means, including and beyond the law, for the stability of the regime. Protests by students at colleges and universities are seen as more sensitive than other protests by the authorities because students have played a prominent and important role in all the pro-democracy movements, and so repression is a consistent practice of the CCP.
In addition to the protest at Zhongbei College of Nanjing Normal University, there were also student protests at Xinglin College of Nantong University and Hanlin College of Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“Structural imbalance behind “merger and transfer
Yang Dali told VOA that China’s Ministry of Education wants to speed up the “merger and transfer” process because there are some structural imbalances in China’s education. He said most young people want to get undergraduate or even graduate degrees, but in recent years, jobs for undergraduates have not been easy to find, and salaries are now sometimes less than those of people working in factories. So in this case, the Ministry of Education may want to divert young people and strengthen the higher education component.
He added that the working class is also really lacking after all these years, with many young people reluctant to enter factories and a relative lack of skilled workers. “So from that point of view, the consideration of policy makers is probably more about wanting to further enhance vocational and technical training.”
But he also mentioned that Chinese parents and young people have different views, with everyone wanting to earn a bachelor’s degree.
An article by Xiong Bingqi, a Chinese education scholar and vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, published by Interface News, an online media outlet owned by Shanghai Press Group, said the incident reflected the low recognition of vocational education by students and parents. “They are worried about being labeled as vocational undergraduates,” he wrote, “and the public’s understanding of vocational and technical universities remains a class below that of ordinary undergraduate institutions.”
Xiong also writes, “Because for a long time, China has taken the approach of holding levels of education to develop vocational education. Vocational education has been treated as one level below general education, with secondary education below general high school and higher vocational education below general higher education, and, in the ‘academic society’ public opinion environment, vocational education has been stigmatized and rendered as an education only for poor students.”
China recently proposed legislation to make vocational education as important as general education. China’s official microblogging service Xinhua News Agency recently said that China intends to legislate to stipulate that vocational education is as important as general education, and that the development of vocational education is related to the overall economic and social development of China. The draft revision of the vocational education law was first submitted to the meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for consideration on June 7.
The report said the draft proposed that vocational education has the same importance as general education, and hopes to solve the outstanding problems in the field of vocational education, and promote the training of hundreds of millions of “high-quality technical and skilled personnel”. The draft also highlights the employment orientation, intends to alleviate the structural contradictions in employment, and provides a legal basis for further deepening the reform of vocational education.
Wang Hui, director general of the Department of College Students at China’s Ministry of Education, said the total number of graduates from ordinary colleges and universities in the 2021 class is 9.09 million, an increase of 350,000 year-on-year and another record high. Not commensurate with the more than 9 million people entering the labor market, some employers cannot recruit the right labor force, the Economic Daily said. According to a survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics, which included more than 90,000 industrial enterprises above the scale, about 44% of the enterprises reflected that the biggest problem they faced was the difficulty in recruiting workers, especially the shortage of first-line general workers, high-skilled personnel and technical workers.
An industry manager told Voice of America that carpenters and electricians in the decoration industry are not very easy to recruit, and the recruited workers are also old, and almost no young people are willing to engage in this kind of work.
The suspension of the merger transfer is the dawn of victory?
Just as the student protests were being suppressed by the police, the Jiangsu Provincial Education Department issued a one-sentence notice on its official website on Monday (June 7): “It has been decided that Jiangsu Province will suspend the merger and transfer of independent colleges and higher education institutions.” Nanjing Normal University also issued a red-headed document announcing that “the merger and transfer between Zhongbei College of Nanjing Normal University and higher vocational colleges will be terminated and will not be transferred to vocational education undergraduate programs”, while other institutions also issued announcements of “termination of merger and transfer”.
The “compromise” of Jiangsu Province and the “termination” announcement of some colleges and universities do not seem to make students put down their high hanging hearts, and some people still have doubts about the permanence of the document.
Netizens are divided on the issue, with some saying that the Jiangsu Provincial Education Department’s compromise was due to the blood of students, but others saying that student blood was not the source of the compromise. One Twitter user said, “It’s because it’s almost July 1. Local officials are afraid of affecting their careers first temporarily pacified. Wait for after July 1.”
Lawyer Teng Biao said, “On the surface, the Department of Education made some concessions, but the CCP’s first consideration is not the students’ and not the students’ rights, or the reasonableness and legality of some legal policies.” He said that the Chinese Communist Party needs to maintain stability, and they probably took into account the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Party on July 1 and even the National Day on the following October 1.
He mentioned that previous experience shows that whether it is the central government or the local government, he may make some concessions or some compromises, but he will still continue the policy in some way. Teng Biao also said the Communist Party would settle scores with some “organizers, participants and active activists.
The Danyang Public Security Bureau reported on Tuesday that some students of the Zhongbei College of Nanjing Normal University gathered on campus for a long time because they were dissatisfied with the merger and transfer, and illegally detained the dean, Chang Mou, who came to explain his work and restricted his personal freedom for more than 30 hours. After the provincial education department and Nanjing Normal University issued a notice to suspend and terminate the merger and transfer work and read out the explanation on the spot, a few students continued to prevent Chang from leaving despite the dissuasion.
Danyang City Public Security Bureau said it repeatedly shouted warnings to students and carried out legal campaigns, but was besieged and abused by some students and obstructed law enforcement. The public security authorities then took the necessary means to remove the trapped person in accordance with the law and sent him to the hospital for treatment. The public security authorities are investigating the illegal acts involved in the incident in accordance with the law.
Speaking to Voice of America, Ba Thou Cao, a Chinese-American dissident artist currently in Australia, said that the authorities have begun to threaten the students’ futures, and that he has seen from some screenshots of weibo messages that have been leaked that the university is threatening the students through class cadres and class leaders, and that if they participate in the protests, these students may not get their diplomas at all, and may even stay on the case and be arrested in the future.
Student protests draw attention at home and abroad
The students’ cries and protests for their future have not only generated a lot of buzz at home, but have also attracted a lot of attention overseas. There is no shortage of supportive voices on social media platforms in China, arguing that the students are legitimately defending their rights. However, there were also voices supporting the “people’s police” and accusing the students of North Central College of taking an aggressive approach and even “illegally detaining” the president.
“Support the police, good job! A bunch of wasted youths who don’t learn anything,” wrote one Weibo user. As international media began to follow the story and interview the protesters, some Chinese netizens also called the students “colluding with foreign forces” and putting the police, the government and even the country in opposition.
While some expressed support for the students’ bravery in defending their rights, others mocked: “I guess there are a lot of pinkos among them, right? Now they’re getting a taste of the iron fist.”
Ba Thou Cao, who supported the students’ protest, said, “Even though many students have so-called patriotic thoughts and have made pink remarks before, I don’t think it has much to do with their current protest. Don’t pink people have the right to protest? As a pro-human rights, pro-rights person, you should support their actions.”
“Inside the store a bunch of indifferent watchers, pockets of bags, holding up sunglasses. Outside the store was filled with fast air, savoring the girls’ cries.” A Weibo user wrote.