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Compulsory Education Costs Cut

China is reforming its fee system for compulsory education: from this autumn, the basic tuition fee will be eliminated, says the Chinese Ministry of Education. Students will be required to pay only "study surcharges," the amount of which is currently being decided, according to an official from the Beijing Municipal Education Commission.

At present, tuition waivers are only available in rural primary and junior secondary schools located in areas designated by the national poverty relief programs. That measure regulated schools' fee assessment systems and prevented overcharging. Since it was put into effect in 2003, disadvantaged students have saved 1.7 billion yuan (US$205 million) in education fees.

The Ministry of Education decided to exempt all compulsory education from the basic tuition fee starting this autumn. Minister of Education Zhou Ji said when making the announcement that four key points need to be underlined.

Compulsory education is the responsibility of all levels of government, he said. Schools can help the government collect textbook fees.

The amount of study surcharges will be determined by provincial governments according to the local situation. Amounts in urban and rural areas may differ, according to the minister, but the amount must be determined in accordance with the Price Law and may be approved only after hearings.

All the charges need to be published and collected at once, at the beginning of each term. Schools, education departments or local governments may not levy additional charges at a later date. Education departments may not require students to buy study guidance material.

Breakdowns of fees charged must be made public, and collection should be under public supervision, Zhou said.

The Ministry of Education is also taking steps to improve the financial aid system for underprivileged students. For designated students, the ministry plans to waive all charges, including tuition, textbook fees and surcharges. It also plans to provide living allowances to these children.

(China.org.cn by Feng Yikun, March 14, 2004)

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