Xianlin Campus of Nanjing Normal University (by Logicofscience via Wikimedia Commons)

On June 8, police clashed with student protesters on the campus of Nanjing Normal University’s Zhongbei College (南京师范大学中北学院), in China’s Jiangsu province.

The students were protesting against a decision by the authorities to merge their college with a vocational school over fears that this would “devaluate” their degrees.

Zhongbei College was founded in 1999 as the first independent college approved by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The college has 8 departments: humanities, foreign languages, economics and management, public management, information science and technology, engineering, fine arts, and music.

Zhongbei College and other independent colleges are regarded as superior to vocational schools. Planned mergers thus prompted a backlash across campuses in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

Students were worried that in China’s highly competitive job market, the degrees of the newly established institutions would put them at a disadvantage both when applying for jobs in the private sector and for civil service examinations.

On June 6, students sent a petition to the college administration demanding that the merger be stopped. The students assembled on campus and detained the principal for over 30 hours.

Two days later, the police was deployed to end the protests. They used batons and pepper spray against students, and the images of the police beating up students went viral on social media. Chinese censorship soon stepped in to restrict the flow of information.

The Department of Education of Jiangsu province originally announced the merger of Zhongbei College and of Jiangsu Vocational Institute of Commerce (江苏经贸职业技术学院) on March 18 as part of the Ministry of Education’s plan to merge independent colleges and vocational institutes nationwide.

Independent colleges became popular in the early 2000s and were viewed by the government as a useful tool to promote education. Independent colleges are affiliated with prominent public universities but are privately funded.

Zhongbei College and other colleges have announced that they will temporarily shelve the merger plans.

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