Although Li Baoxian had been a teacher in a secondary school in the town of Dianyuan, he never imagined that he would teach a group of rural college students in the future. In 2004, the state implemented the "One College Student per Village" programme. In 2008, the "One College Student per Village" programme kicked off in Songming. Since then, some graduates from this programme have become leaders in the village, helping villagers become wealthy, while others have become core human resources for the construction of grassroots organisations in the village.

Classes Opened in Rural University.

In 2004, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Open University of China (OUC) decided to implement the "One College Student per Village” programme, a degree education project designed specifically to serve rural areas and farmers, including vigorously developing training of practical technology in rural areas, taking the initiative to provide educational training targeted at rural labour forces transferred to other industries, further improving the continuing education of teachers in rural primary and secondary schools, and actively participating in the work of modern distance education and training of rural Party cadres. The programme, funded by the government and supported by universities, also benefits farmers. Different from the learner development model at ordinary colleges and universities, the "One College Student per Village" programme is aimed only at rural areas, with a part-time learning method that respects employed students’ lifestyles. Farmer-college students may enroll for admissions, attend a local university without having to transfer their household’s registration (hukou), accumulate and receive required credits, and then are awarded a nationally recognised diploma.

A series of concerns emerged one after another. Among them were questions such as, “What if no one attends school? What if the students do not understand the lectures? How to give a practical class?” To develop a deeper understanding, Li Baoxian and his colleagues first went to the countryside. After many talks, with dozens of cadres from the village committee and leaders in the village who had helped others become wealthy, they learned that, in many villages, there were no professional veterinarians. It was very inconvenient for farmers to inspect and quarantine livestock they raised, and hence there was no breakthrough in farming scale. The villagers voluntarily sought to study veterinary technology.

In 2008, when the Songming branch of Yunnan Provincial Agricultural Radio and Television School began enrolling students, it opened an animal husbandry and veterinary specialty. The original enrolment goal was 25 students, but more than 31 students were recruited. After the students finished two and a half years of study and received the required 76 credits for graduation, they received a nationally recognised, electronically registered, junior college degree. Before then, village cadres with a junior college degree were rarely seen in Songming.

After a few years, the "One College Student per Village" programme paved a path for young people with big dreams to make progress. Since its implementation in 2008, a total of 243 students have studied in the "One College Student per Village"; 162 have graduated and 81 are on-campus in Songming County. An additional 50 students have just enrolled in 2016. The enrolment scope extended from village committee cadres in the beginning to ensure one college student in each village, to large households, pioneers helping villagers become wealthy, technology demonstration households, demobilised soldiers, workers of township enterprises, migrant workers, and more.

Applying what they learned, they changed their villages.

From an outsider’s perspective, the biggest difference between Jide Village of Xiaojie Town, Songming County, and other villages, is that the former is particularly clean. There is no garbage on the roads, and in front of every household there is a special garbage can. Jide Village, Xiaojie Town’s Party branch secretary and village committee director, Ma Xiangyang, said that today, rural areas are no longer synonymous with filthy places, and rural areas can plan and manage themselves well. In 2010, Ma Xiangyang joined the One College Student per Village programme and studied rural administration. He was greatly inspired by a rural environmental hygiene management course. "In the past, garbage was misplaced in our village. Though a garbage collection station was built, the garbage was not removed away in timely manner, and it gave out a very bad and uncomfortable smell." Ma Xiangyang said village sanitation is not as good as in cities, and has been a chronic disease. To change the current situation, we must first change awareness of hygiene among villagers.

By his suggestion, waste oil pails were used as trash cans in the village. After a period of adaptation, the villagers slowly changed their old habits.

When the sanitation situation changed for the better, Ma Xiangyang turned his focus on village planning. Every year, renovations of dilapidated buildings in the village were carried out without direction. In order to bid the chaotic reconstruction of old village houses farewell, Ma Xiangyang proposed to carry out a pilot programme on more than 90 mu of abandoned rice seedling beds to the northwest of the village. A unified plan, including the construction of affordable houses, townhouse apartments, standard workshops, and lakeside rest areas, up to municipal construction standards, was made. Today, the hardened village roads are spacious and straight, and equipped with lighting. The construction of housing units and terraced villas is underway, with water, power, and sewage pipes orderly arranged. Ma proudly proclaimed, “We’re constructing the new villages in the same way as cities are built.”

This programme not only improved the survival skills of rural youth, but also helped them realise their “university dreams.” Since its implementation, the "One College Student Per Village" programme in Songming has cultivated at least one college student per village in over 200 administrative villages in the Songming area. These students all play active roles in their respective positions. The programme has also significantly improved the overall quality of talents in the construction of rural grassroots organisations, which will meet current and future development needs in rural areas. Some students followed the selection process and joined the township’s leadership circle. More students were selected as new leaders in the village committee, in a recent election at the end of office terms.

By Yang Yang, Kunming Daily