Nanjing student protest ends in bloody scenes and derails college merger

2021.06.09

Dozens of student protesters at a Nanjing college were injured at the weekend as police wielded batons and pepper spray to break up their demonstration and rescue the principal, ending his 30 hours in “illegal captivity.”

Three provincial education departments suspended college merger plans after the ruckus in Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu province. They had been following a state-level proposal to combine independent colleges and vocational institutes to economize resources, a move that students said would degrade their degrees.

The students of Zhongbei College at Nanjing Normal University started a peaceful protest on Sunday afternoon in response to the local education bureau’s announcement to merge their college with the Jiangsu Vocational Institute of Commerce to form the Nanjing Vocational and Technological University of Commerce.

Photos found on social media showed the students at the school entrance, holding banners and forming a human chain lit up with their mobile phone lights.

The school principal, Chang Qing, was held captive after meeting the protesting students, Danyang city police said on their social media account.

A few students ignored police warnings and kept the principal in the venue even after both the provincial education department and the college had withdrawn the proposal, the police bureau said.

Police officers then stormed into the campus. They used pepper spray and pushed and beat people with batons in a crowded conference room, according to videos and photos circulating on WeChat. Some students ended up with bloodied heads.

The number of injured and arrested people had not been disclosed yet, with the local police office saying only that an investigation was underway.

Students later expressed anger on social media, hitting out at police for using violence on students who were only defending their rights. They demanded the college be held responsible for their schoolmates’ injuries.

The provincial education departments of Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shandong announced, without explanation, the suspension of merger plans between local independent colleges and vocational institutes.

Unhappiness had been building up after the Jiangsu Education Department in March suggested creating the Nanjing Vocational and Technological University of Commerce. In that notice, the department also asked people with differing views to submit their opinions with their real names by June 18.

The news cast uncertainty on the career development of students. For example, graduates of a vocational university would be at a disadvantage when competing with university graduates for postgraduate degree programmes and government jobs, current students said. They were also upset that their degree titles would change despite the high fees being paid to study at an independent college affiliated with the century-old Nanjing Normal University.

Zhongbei College was established in 1999 as an independent school cofounded by Nanjing Normal University and its education development fund. It was one of the first independent colleges that were registered as a public welfare setup.

In China, independent colleges offer undergraduate degree education and are usually cofounded by universities and social organizations. These colleges operate with multiple funding sources but do not draw from the state coffers.

In May last year, the Ministry of Education issued a proposal to press ahead with the merging of independent colleges and vocational institutes.

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