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Volunteers Promote Grant Program for Impoverished Students

More than 100 volunteers from Beijing aged between nine and 50 years old set off for remote villages in China's countryside on Tuesday to encourage students from impoverished backgrounds to apply for financial assistance with university tuition fees.

The project was launched by the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) after it found, by surveying around 300 residents in remote rural areas, which 92 percent were unaware of the scholarship scheme and had not been informed of its existence by the local authorities.

The CFPA found there are around five million college students who need financial aid but it can only provide grants to 10,000 poor students, who took this year's college entrance examination (CEE), at a total cost of more than 20 million yuan (US$2.6 million), according to project director Chen Hongtao.

The CFPA survey also revealed that 80.3 percent of students from poverty-stricken families regarded entering university as a "turning point" in their lives that could lift their families out of poverty.

However, more than 25 percent of parents said they would make their children give up the opportunity of receiving higher education if they could not afford the tuition fees.

Lu Gang, an office worker from Beijing, said he used to be ignorant of the plight of impoverished students who yearned to go to university.

"When I took the CEE, the only thing I worried about was whether my score was high enough, however, now I know there are many students who are worrying about whether they can even afford to go to college," he said.

Liu Ming, a college graduate from a university in Beijing, has already benefited from the project.

She arrived in Beijing four years ago with only 200 yuan in her pocket but managed to secure an annual scholarship of 2,000 yuan. University tuition fees in some universities in Beijing can go up to 5,500 yuan a year.

"The project gave me hope that I could still fight for the future with the help of many others," she said.

China had 23.65 million rural poor, with an annual per capita income of less than 683 yuan, by the end of 2005 but parents have to pay at least 8,000 yuan each year to support a college student.

China will allocate more than 50 billion yuan (about US$6.5 billion) in scholarships, student loans and subsidies to help poverty-stricken students, according to a circular issued by the State Council in May, which will benefit about four million college students and more than 16 million vocational school students.

(Xinhua News Agency July 25, 2007)

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