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The SARS attack has hit southeast Asia, particularly the Chinese capital Beijing. Due to the outbreak, Beijing University closed one of its hospitals to carry out a comprehensive disinfection. The Chinese authorities also decided to cancel May 1st celebrations and to close the capital's schools in an attempt to stop the rapid spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

"Because we do not have the necessary resources to deal with SARS, we expect to meet a large outbreak of the disease," said the World Health Organization's representative in China.

Following this, the World Trade Organization announced that the global economy would be severely impacted. China was, until today, an engine of growth for the world, as it has grown by several percentage points, year in year out, expanding its demand and growth throughout a world suffering from an extended economic slowdown.

Taking the Chinese authorities' advice to students not to venture outside of the campuses, this gives us a fine opportunity to compare student life in China and Israel.

Tuition fees for a first degree in China stand at 6,000 yuan a year. To put this sum in perspective, a secretary's salary is, on average, 1,000 yuan a month and that of a government clerk is 2,000 yuan. In other words, tuition fees in China for a year are equal to four months' salary. In Israel, university tuition fees are around one-and-a-half month's salary.

A Chinese second-degree student of business management pays 30,000 yuan a year. That means he or she has to put up 20 months' salary. Here in Israel, a second degree costs the same as a first, on average the equivalent of one-and-a-half months' salary. Over there, they have a communist regime, which ostensibly offers free education, while we live under capitalism - or so they say.

Therefore, anyone who is gloriously championing the reduction of university fees is taking a mighty swipe at academia, as well as society, because the ones going to university are not from the weakest sector of the population. It's the upper and middle classes that register, so why shouldn't they pay substantial fees? Why shouldn't students take long-term loans, as they are studying to fill the better-paid professional jobs in the long term?

But here in Israel we subsidize the rich, when we could use the same money to exempt just the poor from paying fees. And it might be more effective to take the millions subsidizing university studies and instead subsidize the kindergartens and schools in development towns and neighborhoods where it could give a better chance to the poorest to move on to further education.

So when freshman MK Gila Gamliel (Likud) promises she will introduce legislation to keep cutting university fees, one should ask her to clarify exactly who she represents - the weak and the poor or the ones who already have.