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Special Grants Offered to Poor Students

A special state grant worth 800 million yuan (US$98.77 million) every year will be issued to poverty-stricken college students from next month.

Officials from the Ministry of Education added that children in rural China will enjoy free nine-year compulsory schooling before 2010.

The grant, allocated by the central government, is to help cover basic living expenses for 533,000 poor students enrolled in public colleges. Each student will receive a monthly subsidy of 150 yuan (US$18.52), Zhang Baoqing, vice-minister of education, said at a press conference held by the Ministry of Education on August 29.

The regulation stipulates that only students who are extremely poor may apply for the grant. Certificates of their family background issued by the local authorities must accompany their application.

The standards for determining exactly who qualifies vary from province to province.

Ministry figures indicate that about 2.63 million college students in China live in poverty. This accounts for 19 percent of the total 13.5 million student population. Among them, 1.22 million are classified as "extremely poor".

Zhang stressed the central government's commitment to helping college students from impoverished families. "We set up a state scholarship in 2002 that annually gives out 200 million yuan (US$24.69 million) to poor students with outstanding academic achievements," Zhang said, adding that 50,000 students receive the scholarship every year.

"Now eligibility for financial aid will be extended to ordinary but diligent students from poor families."

For those who fail to get the state scholarship and grant, applying for state loans might be another option. Since it was launched in 2000, the student loans system has helped 1.53 million college students by issuing 12.25 billion yuan (US$1.51 billion) in interest-free loans. Any student from an impoverished family is qualified to apply.

However, Zhang said the loan amounts issued are not adequate.
"According to our estimates, to ensure that poor students finish their four-year college studies, at least 10 billion yuan (US$1.23 billion) should be granted every year," he said. "But in 2004-05, only half that amount was issued."

According to the ministry, the following eight provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have not yet granted any state loans to poor students: Hainan, Tianjin, Heilongjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia.

"Because part of the interest is paid from local public revenues, some provinces and banks are looking for excuses not to grant interest-free loans to students, and colleges don't want to be involved," Zhang said.

The education authority also reiterated that the "Green Passage" program, in which poor students may apply to defer tuition payments, should be continued this year.

Last year, the program helped 290,000 new students register for college entrance in spite of their financial circumstances, accounting for 11  of the total number of poor students in the country.

Zhang also revealed yesterday that in the revised draft of the law on compulsory education currently being evaluated, children in rural areas will benefit from free compulsory education in the next five years. Currently, legislators are soliciting opinions from the public for the revised draft.

The core issue under discussion is how to ensure that there are enough funds to sustain a system of free compulsory education.

In 2003, the country invested 136.5 billion yuan (US$16.9 billion) in compulsory education, 47.6 billion yuan (US$5.87 billion) short of what was required.

Meanwhile, the country's fiscal spending on education accounted for 3.28 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003, as compared to the world average of 4 percent.

The compulsory education law currently in force has vague stipulations that governments at all levels should guarantee the education budget. It stops short of clarifying what happens if it is not guaranteed. One of the major tasks of the revised law should be to clear up the grey areas.

(China Daily August 30, 2005)

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