Home>News Center>China

Dorm: A room of one's own
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-25 00:41

When the autumn semester opened in early September, Xiao Yang got a surprise from the school administration after he reported to the new campus on the island of Xiaoguwei in the Guangzhou suburb.

He had to live in the school dormitory, he was told.

"But I used to rent my own place when I was on the old campus," he protested.

"You haven't been reading up on the latest news, have you?" asked the woman in charge of student affairs.

"No college student -- that includes you -- is allowed to rent one's own place," she said, "unless you can present a very strong case."

"Like what?"

"For one, if you have a contagious disease."

Xiao Yang's surprise has been multiplied tens of thousands of times across China's college campuses as millions of students returned from this year summer vacation.

The new regulation by the Ministry of Education, to the effect that college students should, in principle, not be allowed to find their own housing solutions, was issued in June.

But few, if they noticed it, took the regulation seriously, the rule seemed well-meaning but hardly enforceable.

College students enjoy themselves at a university dormitory. The education ministry's controversial ban on college students' renting off-campus places has trigger hot debate. [newsphoto]

Then, local bureaux of education in places like South China's Guangdong Province began to issue their own edicts, bringing home the threat of a real shutdown.

There has been an outburst of bitter reactions, mostly on the Internet where students find it most comfortable to express themselves.

The most common defence from both the on- and off-campus factions is: We are not children any more, and we know how to take care of ourselves.

A commentator for China Youth Daily argues from the legal perspective: "A citizen who lives in a law-governed country should have the freedom to choose his own life style. As long as he does not break the law, he should have his freedom of choice because this falls within the category of a citizen's basic rights. College students are legal-age citizens and enjoy the right of a choice in housing which means they can choose to live on campus or rent their own places off-campus. It's a right they should be entitled to."

The article continues to chide the education departments for lacking the necessary sense of "modern public management."

Most students cannot present their case so eloquently, but they emphasize the chasm between why the authorities wanted it and how they went about it.

"They intend to keep students from harm, but they don't care how we feel about it."

Colleges in China have always functioned as a one-stop shop, so to speak, where students get all the services on campus including dining halls and dorm rooms. Almost all campuses are walled and gated. School personnel are supposed to show ID cards when entering and visitors must register. While this policy is rarely enforced, the campus is still a relative oasis from the outside world.

A wish for more comforts

Dormitories used to be provided for free or for a nominal fee, but starting in the mid-1990s, dorm fees began to rise. Now a bed costs anywhere from 500 yuan (US$60.46) to 2,000 yuan (US$241.83) a year, depending on the location of the city and condition of the building.

Usually four to eight people share one room.

Congestion is a chronic complaint. The number one reason students give when applying for move-out is: "I cannot stand the dorm any more. I want a better environment for my studies."

The most favoured location for after-class study is the school library.

But it hardly has the capacity to accommodate all the students, let alone when enrollment sharply increased a few years ago.

Many have to make do with their dorm rooms, but it is nearly impossible to coordinate the schedules of a bunch of youths whose habits and personalities often collide.

One may crave loud music whereas another desperately needs the quiet.

College students enjoy themselves at a university dormitory. The education ministry's controversial ban on college students' renting off-campus places has trigger hot debate. [newsphoto]

Then, from 10-11 pm, many campuses impose a mandatory blackout for all dorm rooms. That makes burning the midnight oil, a popular practice among students.

Generally it takes only one inconsiderate person to ruin the harmony of such a communal space, admit many students.

Some cynics suggest the real motive behind the wholesale ban on off-campus living is money.

"The logistics department of our school would not be able to turn a profit if all of us rent our own units," said one Sichuan student.

"We pay an average 200 yuan (US$24) a month for a bed in a pigsty of a room. For a little more, I can get my own room by renting an off-campus two-bedroom unit and subletting it to another person."

Some claim that renting one's own apartment is even cheaper, but it is hard to be substantiated.

Most agree that renting off-campus usually entails higher expenses.

In recent years there is a marked improvement in the quality and facilities of college dorms. The ones in Guangzhou's new college town take in only four to a room, all with air-conditioning, shower and toilet. Each person has his or her own desk and cabinet.

"In Beijing we have built over 1 million square metres of dorm rooms in recent years," said an official at the city's education bureau.

There is no official data showing exactly how many students live off-campus.

Rule-of-thumb figures vary widely, from 1 per cent to 20 per cent or even higher. But the pattern is clear: Freshmen and sophomores tend to stay on campus whereas juniors and seniors have the inclination to move out.

Page: 12

  Today's Top News     Top China News

Taiwan people protest Chen's arms purchase



Premier pushes for stronger Russian ties



CPC central committee to give reforms boost



Iran says it tested 'strategic missile'



DPRK missile site movements said continuing



Chinese economy grows at 9% this year


  CPC central committee to give reforms boost
  Taiwan people protest Chen's arms purchase
  Drivers in the hot seat
  Crushing burden of sickness
  Power cuts to kick kids off the Net
  Premier pushes for stronger Russian ties
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  News Talk  
  It is time to prepare for Beijing - 2008