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Colleges Open Doors to Special Students
The start of the new autumn term at universities in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing saw the arrival of some unusual students. Three boys who are blind at Shanghai Normal University, another young man without arms at the 100-year-old Beijing Normal University, and a 73-year-old enrolled as an auditing student in Nanjing Medical University.

Meanwhile, in another part of the country, Su Mingjuan, who owes her schooling to Project Hope, a charity aimed at helping children from poverty-stricken areas get an education, passed the college entrance examination which won her a place at Anhui University in Hefei, east China's Anhui Province.

Higher education is no longer the domain of the young and physically healthy.

In 2001, the Ministry of Education, the top educational authority of the country, decided to open higher education to more people by withdrawing the restrictions of age, 25 years, and marital status.

This year, a total of 16,000 people over the age of 25 sat the national college entrance exam.

If not for the new rules, many might never have had the chance to be full-time students at a Chinese university.

Although that figure is small compared to the total number of students sitting the exam, which now stands at more than 4.53 million, the removal of restrictions is significant.

For disabled people, while primary and middle school education is a legal right, they are sometimes left on the sidelines when it comes to higher education.

Currently in China, there are as many as 60 million disabled people -- blind, deaf, the wheelchair-bound and others with disabilities.

Although some disabled students achieve good academic results, they are thwarted when it comes to higher education by failing compulsory health checks.

Things are, however, getting much better since the introduction of an anti-discrimination law in 1991.

According to the Beijing Daily, more than 300 high school graduates with physical disabilities attended universities in Beijing between 1996 and 2001.

This year also bears witness to the success of Project Hope, initiated 11 years ago. The story of Su Mingjuan is itself a testimony to the life-transforming work of the project. With their funding she was able to go to school and sat this year's national college entrance examination.

On September 16, she will proudly take her place at Anhui University, a fulfillment of what would have otherwise been a hopeless dream for a little girl born into poverty.

Like Su, many children from desperately poor regions have benefited, or are benefiting from such charitable projects, which are sponsored by non-governmental organizations.

The government is also making great efforts to help. Major state-owned banks have been required to offer low interest loans to university students who could otherwise not afford the tuition fees. Poor students will also have access to many kinds of scholarships, exclusively designed for them.

(China Daily September 11, 2002)

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