By Ma Latang
Around 300 students from Sichuan province’s Mianyang Normal University (绵阳师范学院) hit the city’s streets on November 4 in protest for their diplomas. Students gathered at the main entrance of the university and then marched towards the municipal government building, holding banners saying they had been deceived by university authorities.
Mingpao says “large numbers” of riot police suddenly appeared and forcibly broke up the crowd by zapping them with stun guns. Local residents say that the cries of students could be heard from “very far away”.
Several students were arrested by the police and the rest were subsequently persuaded by their teachers to return to school, which was blanketed by heavy security on Nov 5.
One student at the university, who did not participate in the protest himself, tells Radio Free Asia that the police did not beat students but just tried to get them back to school. He adds that the actual number of protesters might be only a few dozen.
A report on Sichuan News, a government-run portal, reports that says around 70 students gathered at the municipal government for their diploma and tuition issues. Provincial authorities have vowed to investigate the matter.
Protesters say they are students from the continuing education school of the university. When they entered the school, they were told that they would get the same diplomas as undergraduates and were charged as much as undergraduates. However, after 2 years in school, they were told they could only get a graduate certificate for continuing education rather than a bachelor diploma.
Others, however, believed that the students were themselves to blame for having misunderstood the university’s offer when they entered the university.
The protest is symptomatic of a wider problem in China. Many universities, including the top-of-the-league colleges, have tapped into their branding to build lucrative businesses around “continuing education” branches. Many students are led by sales staff to believe they will be receiving graduate certificates that are “exactly the same” as the ones that other students enrolled through the normal route are getting.
14,000 undergraduate students are enrolled at Mianyang Normal University, and another 15,000 students are under the continuing education department.