SHANGHAI, China – College students in central China smashed offices and set fires in a riot sparked by administrative changes that made their diplomas less prestigious, students and school administrators said Monday.
Photos of the weekend riots posted on the Internet showed fires set in debris-strewn school courtyards and glass smashed in administrative offices, shops, cars and a bank.
Students said police with water cannons had moved onto the campus of Shengda Economics, Trade and Management College in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. It was unclear if there were any clashes.
There was no mention of the apparent riots in the country's state-controlled media. Campus unrest is treated with extreme sensitivity in China, where 1989 student pro-democracy protests led to the bloody military crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Zhengzhou police and local government and education officials said they had no details of the weekend protests or could not comment without permission from Communist Party officials.
However, an official with the school's Communist Party committee confirmed the riots and said talks with students stalled Monday because their demands were unclear.
"The problem is the students aren't being coherent. We don't really know what they want," the official said by telephone. He refused to give his name.
The Zhengzhou riots appeared to reflect the massive pressure Chinese students face in an increasingly competitive job market.
Many families go into massive debt to send children to a university, and a huge expansion in higher education has led to white-hot competition for jobs, making a degree's prestige ever more important.
Students said they entered Shengda, a private college, after recruiters promised they would get diplomas from the better-known Zhengzhou University, which Shengda is affiliated with.
However, while students graduating this year will receive Zhengzhou degrees, those graduating next year will only receive Shengda degrees, said students who e-mailed The Associated Press and posted comments on an online school bulletin board that was later shut down.
"We've been cheated out of three years," said one posting, signed Yvonne, on the online education blog http://www.3ec.cn/.
Parents, many of them poor farmers, apparently had been willing to pay Shengda's relatively high $1,250 annual tuition because they believed their children would receive Zhengzhou University degrees.