updated 10/26/2006 9:23:38 AM ET 2006-10-26T13:23:38

Up to 10,000 college students fought with Chinese police in four days of protests over their academic status, damaging cars and buildings and leaving at least 20 people injured, a foreign monitoring center said Thursday.

The protests erupted Oct. 21 in Nanchang, a city in Jiangxi province, after students learned that the government might not recognize academic records from two private schools, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

The paramilitary People’s Armed Police were deployed to contain the protests and at least five people were detained, the report said.

It said the protesters were ethnic minorities, including some 2,000 Uighurs from China’s Muslim northwest.

Protesters set fire to a building, wrecking eight offices, and damaged three cars, the report said. It said students were calling for a protest march to be held Sunday.

People who answered the phone at the Nanchang police headquarters and the administration offices of the two schools—Jiangxi Ganjiang Institute of Technology and the Jiangxi Institute of Fashion College—wouldn’t confirm the report or give their names.

A man who answered the phone at the Ganjiang Institute of Technology’s registration office and said his brother who studied there confirmed there was a protest, but said it involved only a few hundred students. He said he didn’t know of any injuries.

“The students worried that their degree would not be officially recognized, so they protested and rioted in the compound,” said the man, who wouldn’t give his name.

“Now the government officials are in the university to explain to the students,” he said. “They said the students misunderstood and their degrees were officially recognized. Most of the students have gone to classes.”

China has seen a series of such protests of the status of degrees granted to students at private schools, set up by universities as profit-making ventures.

The schools serve students who failed intensely competitive entrance exams for government-subsidized universities, but can afford to pay higher private tuition.

Such schools initially granted degrees and academic records in the name of the parent institution. But the government has cracked down on that practice, prompting student complaints that the new status hurts their job prospects.

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