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Students Get Meal Subsidies

The Ministry of Education has ordered all universities to stabilize the price of meals served in their canteens in the wake of recent food price hikes.

A symptom of the surging consumer price index, the average price of a meal in university canteens in Beijing, Wuhan and Guangzhou has increased by 0.1-1 yuan (1-13 cents) since the last academic year.

The burden of keeping prices down will be borne by the universities with help from local governments, which have been told to increase subsidies.

"Universities and colleges across the country must stabilize canteen food prices, adjust the type of food available without compromising nutritional value and ensure the supply of low-priced meals," ministry spokesman Wang Xuming said.

"College canteens should reduce waste and cut costs," he said, warning college officials not to treat the situation as "a petty issue of food and drink".

"It is very important for universities to budget carefully at this time," Wang said.

He also urged universities to sign meat supply contracts directly with food processing plants to reduce costs.

However, Wu Lan, director of the Beijing universities joint food purchasing center, said such a move was not enough to solve the problem.

"Although most Beijing universities buy their food cooperatively and in bulk, the market price has risen so sharply that even this is not enough to keep meal prices down," Wu said.

Wang also urged local governments to give universities special rates for water and electricity to help them cut costs.

Meanwhile, the government is currently providing direct subsidies for needy students who comprise 14 percent of the total student population.

In Xiamen, Fujian Province, for instance, selected students receive 14 yuan per month from the local government, while their peers in Hunan Province get a one-time 100-yuan subsidy from the provincial government.

In addition, the Ministry of Education has promised there will be no increase in tuition fees.

Students themselves are also looking for ways to make ends meet. Rather than eat at the university canteen, Wei Lisha, a Nankai University student, said she prefers to cook for herself.

"Some of my roommates and I have bought stoves this semester," Wei said.

She said they usually eat huoguo (hotpot) made from vegetables, meat and noodles.

"This nutritious meal costs us only 3-4 yuan each, which is much less than a standard meal from the canteen," Wei said.

(China Daily September 5, 2007)

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