Mind the gap
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-14 13:58
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Mind the gap

Armed with maps and guidebooks, hordes of Chinese families set off across the nation this summer - but some had a hidden agenda to their holidays.

The destinations for many middle-aged parents were residential areas around universities, and sights included more real estate agents' offices than places of cultural interest.

"We get many parents from other cities and provinces during the summer vocation. Most of them came to buy houses for their children who are studying at the college here," said Wang Shang, an agent with the Century 21, a real estate agency in Qingdao, Shandong province.

The increase in nouveaux riches snapping up property near universities is just one factor that has made college campuses the clearest example of the widening wealth gap in modern China.

Mind the gap

But experts claim the obvious division between rich and poor students could be harming the confidence and education of those from rural or impoverished families.

Soaring house prices in many cities mean it is almost impossible for young people to buy a home without the help of their family, and usually only if their parents have a large income.

Wang said he sold a 178-sq-m house in a good community at a cost of 2.8 million yuan ($410,000) to the parents of Li Shu, a second-year student at the China Marine University in Qingdao. "Most of his new neighbors are business leaders from outside of the city," he added.

In the capital Beijing, almost 5 percent of all house transactions in 2007 involved "student buyers". Today, it is more than 10 percent, with many purchases being paid for in a lump sum, according to Beijing-based realty firms Zhongda Hengji and Zhujia.

Despite vast and continuing improvements of living conditions offered in university dormitories, they still do not meet the expectations of the rich.

A female student at a university in Wuhan, Hubei province, reportedly arrived on her first day with 19 pieces of luggage, enough to fill a four-person dorm and setting a new school record, according to the city's Changjiang Times.

The student's mother is said to have become agitated when her daughter was not given a "private room" and then furious when teachers said it would be impossible to install a private washroom in the dorm, the newspaper reported.

At the other end of the spectrum is Su Ming, who comes from a family of farmers and studies at a university in Beijing. He recalled how he arrived in the capital with just a plastic bag and an old school satchel.

"The classmate who has the bunk above mine in my dormitory was brought to school in a Cadillac. When he saw the room for the first time his face dropped. He complained it was too small and the air conditioner was too small," said Su. "But I am very satisfied with the room. The living conditions here are much better than the situation at home with my family."

The wealth gap on campus is not just evident when it comes to accommodation. Branded clothing, high-tech cell phones and entertainment gadgets, and cars continue to be all the rage among young people, highlighting the divisions between the haves and have-nots.

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The widening gap between 900 million farmers and 400 million urban residents is being mirrored among China's 13 million-plus students, say cultural experts. They also believe students from wealthy backgrounds now enjoy the kinds of luxury some citizens would struggle to attain after decades of work.

"I won a scholarship to the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing but I still have to do part-time jobs in the college library to pay my living expenses," said 20-year-old Zhang Hefei, a second-year student in Spanish from Hebei province.

Su Wenping, a professor in sociology at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said campuses' high density means the growing rich-poor disparity in China could be witnessed "at close range".


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Mind the gap
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-14 13:58

Mind the gap

A student in Chongqing shines shoes after class to earn extra money for her schooling. Many young people find part-time jobs while studying at college. [China Daily]

"It is visible in the classrooms, in the dormitories, or even between students sharing the same desk. This on-campus wealth gap can only negatively impact the values, activities and mental states of students, particularly poor ones," she said.

"Some poor students even suffer depression and, if they do not get help from teachers or psychologists, the long-term effects could hamper the development of healthy personalities."

She explained most students from rich families are extroverted, and active in making friends and taking part in activities. In contrast, poor students often avoid crowds and prefer to be alone.

Mind the gap

"When we organize class activities, such as spring outings, most of the participants are usually students from relatively wealthy families," said Li Xue, 23, who studies garment design at Dalian Polytechnic University in Liaoning province. "Even if the trip is funded by the university, poor students still tend not to join in."

Li, whose parents own a heating company, added: "We honestly don't look down on poorer students but they just seem too proud to receive our help. They do not need to be like this. We are just classmates."

In July, 22-year-old Li Li was jailed for robbing a bank on the campus of the Beijing University of Science and Technology and taking a fellow student hostage.

The automation scholar, who hails from a poor village in Jiangxi province, turned to crime when he failed to find a job after running out of money, said police.

His classmates and relatives both said Li Li had very high self-esteem but was ashamed of his poor background.

Related readings:
Mind the gap How wide is the income gap today?
Mind the gap Salary gap widening
Mind the gap Wealth gap rises, but no risk of upheaval: Report
Mind the gap To be poor or rich, not a question for college entrance
Mind the gap 
Public concern over jobs, pay gap

A study by Professor Su, in which she interviewed students from varying families, showed that 60 percent of poor students felt shame about their backgrounds, while more than 22 percent said they felt inferior.

"They do not want others to know about their situation and they unconsciously turn away when teachers or classmates offer help," said Su, who added that 42 percent of her subjects said they would turn down any form of help if it means exposing their situation in the media or on the Internet.

"As opposed to senior or middle school, university life has more diverse criteria for 'good' students than simply good grades. But for poor students who are used to gaining self-respect from exam results, it is a big and sudden change in atmosphere. Apart from studying hard, they have little chance to develop other talents or hobbies because of their financial situation," she said.

The obvious wealth gap on campus is a challenge universities have been urged to address.


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TidyRead Page 3
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-14 13:58

"We hold meetings for poor students about once a month and try to pay close attention to their behavior, to make sure they are happy and coping well with the pressure," said Dong Jiaomei, who is in charge of student affairs at Dalian Polytechnic University.

"We know each student's financial situation when they enter the university but we never make public the names of those who receive the school's special poverty subsidies, in order to protect students' privacy and self-esteem."

The reasons behind the growing gap between rich and poor in China are legion but to reduce the negative impact requires concerted efforts by the central government, colleges and society as a whole, said experts.

"Although subsidies and allowances for poor students keep increasing year by year, it is still not enough to cover every young person who needs them," said Su. "Government and universities need to improve the subsidy system to ensure needy students get an equal chance at education.

Related readings:
Mind the gap How wide is the income gap today?
Mind the gap Salary gap widening
Mind the gap Wealth gap rises, but no risk of upheaval: Report
Mind the gap To be poor or rich, not a question for college entrance
Mind the gap 
Public concern over jobs, pay gap

"Most students don't want handouts. They want to make a living with their own hands, so making more part-time jobs and work opportunities available would be the best way to help impoverished students," he added.

A fair job market in which guanxi, or good family connections, had little impact was vital to support them, said Su, "but we can be optimistic as the majority of the employers still favor students with real talents".

Nie Zhenwei, director of the psychology center at Beijing Normal University, also warned those students from rich backgrounds were not immune from the impact of the wealth gap.

"We cannot forget that, by indulging in an affluent life early on, young people often fail to get a good grounding and lose direction," he said. "Learning how to form proper attitudes to life and money is an important lesson at universities for both poor and rich students. We cannot choose the family we were born into, but we can always choose our future."

He said that his college organized many activities for students in the same dormitory to compete in as a unit, allowing rich and poor students to build successful living and working relationships.

"Every semester we also take every opportunity to communicate with parents how important it is they foster rational lifestyles for their children, and keep their feet on the ground," he added.

Mind the gap


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