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US$99m in State Grants for Poor Students
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From next month students lacking funds while attending secondary vocational schools nationwide will have access to special state grant funding of 800 million yuan (US$99 million), which will be available annually.


The fund, allocated by the central government, is to help cover tuition fees for 800,000 needy students at public and private schools. Each of these students could receive a yearly subsidy of 1,000 yuan (US$125), the Ministry of Education announced at a press conference yesterday.


Students who apply for the grant require to come from poorer families and certification of their family circumstances issued by local authorities is essential, the ministry said. The standard for determining exactly who qualifies varies from province to province.


Wu Qidi, vice minister of education, said the grant was "the first national aid project for secondary vocational school students."


The only aid project at the moment is for poorer university students, but Wu said the central government was making efforts to establish a comprehensive assistance system to help all students from impoverished families no matter whether they were at university, vocational school or common secondary school.


Ministry figures indicate that about 4.8 million secondary vocational school students in China are suffering from poverty, accounting for 30 percent of the total 16 million. Vocational schools are an alternative to ordinary secondary schools and offer education with a focus on work skills.


Wu said the majority of vocational students in China were from rural areas or urban families with low incomes. "Without financial aid they're very likely to drop out of school because of tuition costs," she said. Tuition fees for secondary vocational schools vary from 1,000 yuan (US$125) to 2,000 yuan (US$250) a year in different areas of China.


For those who fail to get the state grant, applying for scholarships or loans might be another way. The ministry has also urged local governments to set up scholarships for top students at secondary vocational schools and has encouraged financial institutes to provide low-interest loans for those pursuing their education.  


Orphans, the disabled and students from minority groups may have their tuition waived, according to the ministry.


Wu estimated that with the help of local governments, financial institutes and other social organizations about 20 percent of the total number of secondary vocational students may get financial aid in some form.


In some areas, such as east China's Jiangsu Province, aid for secondary vocational students started in 2004. Yu Haitao, an 18-year-old third-year student at Shuyang vocational training center, is among the first group of students to benefit from the scheme.


The girl from a rural family with a yearly household income of 500 yuan (US$62.5) is having her 2,000 yuan (US$250) tuition fee waived each year. "Without the help from the school and government I could only have become a migrant worker," she said.


Yu said she was happy that more students like her would get financial help by way of the state grant, and thus "rural students have another way to leave the countryside other than going to university."


(China Daily August 17, 2006)

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