More and more universities and colleges are prepared to accommodate the rapidly growing number of foreign students coming to study in China. In 2003, even when China was affected by the SARS epidemic, the number of new foreign students seeking degrees grew 17 percent. In 2003, some 77,715 foreign students from 175 countries were studying in 353 universities and other educational institutes scattered throughout 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. The figures exclude Taiwan Province and the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions. The Chinese government provided scholarships for 6,153 students. About 31 percent, or 24,616, were pursuing degrees. More than 45 percent of the students, 35,353 in all, came from South Korea. There were 12,765 Japanese students and 3,693 from the United States. The Ministry of Education in 2004 began implementing a plan to attract 120,000 foreign students to China by 2007, while further improving the comprehensive medical insurance system as well as living and study conditions for students from abroad.