In major universities in Nanjing, a large number of people from off campus are availing themselves of lunches in the institutions’ canteens to the extent that students and faculty alike are finding it sometimes impossible to have their midday meal.
Office workers and the elderly largely comprise those taking advantage of the good quality, low prices and healthy food. With some schools levying a 40 percent surcharge on the prices for such outside diners, it is no wonder that a fierce online debate has broken out in recent days.
“I am an alumnus of Nanjing University. I went to work nearby after graduation. Sometimes I will go back to school to have lunch”, Mr. Qi, an outside diner, said. “Some restaurants outside are not healthy, and health is not very reassuring. Even with a 40 percent surcharge from the university, it is still cheaper than outside, so I like to come here to have lunch.” Mr. Qi believes that, on the condition that it not prevent teachers and students from eating, the college cafeteria should be open to the public.
This view has also been supported by many netizens. Weibo user, @大雁儿, wrote, “People didn’t eat for free; they did pay”. Many students from Nanjing University also said that they do not feel that outsiders are disturbing the students from eating in the school cafeteria.
In opposition are those who feel it is not good management of the universities. Some think that it is not advisable to compete with students for space and time for lunch. Xiaohang, a student at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA), said, “A lot of people come to our school to eat and the queue to pay is very long, which is not conducive to the management of the school”.
This view received the response of Weibo netizen, @新之助; “The original intention of the school canteen is to solve the problem of dining for faculty and students. It is not a necessity to open to the public”.
Others are more vocal, stoking the controversy. In a WeChat group discussing the issue, one user commented, “Mr. Qi comes back to his school for lunch? That’s ridiculous! I wouldn’t go back to school for lunch if you paid me”.
Another has been quoted as saying, “Can’t the old people go back to the Ikea canteen to play cards and keep the tables away from shoppers who have paid for lunch?”
NUAA responded that it is not recommended for off-campus personnel to dine in the school canteen, and teachers and students should always come first.
A staff member of the meal provider for the Hohai University Logistics Service Centre was quoted as saying that the school does not support the reception of off-campus personnel, except under special circumstances. “Our canteens are subsidised. The food in the canteens of colleges and universities is favourable. Welfare should give priority to teachers and students”, they said.
While many are more than surprised that the university canteens were made open to outside diners in the first place, there remain more pragmatic, even cynical, reasons for the move. Only the most naive would believe the not insignificant funds raised via the 40 percent surcharge are pumped back into improving students’ education.