As the autumn semester begins, 11,383 freshmen are attending China's six elite teaching universities free of charge. In return, they have to teach in rural areas after graduation.
Last September, the six schools scrapped tuition and housing fees for new students majoring in education. The central government covers the costs and provides a 10,000 yuan (about US$1,462) annual stipend to each student.
But the benefits come at a price.
Students must agree to work at a primary or middle school for at least 10 years after graduation and spend the first two years in a rural school.
"This year the number increased and freshmen have better scores," Song Yonggang, a senior official with the Ministry of Education, said on Wednesday.
There are 646 more students involved than last year and according to the ministry, the policy might be extended to other schools.
Song said this year, the admission scores for the programs rose as more applications were received. Students from the central and western areas of China accounted for more than 90 percent of the total.
"That ratio goes right to the core of the policy," Song said.
He noted that last year, China urged universities to give more places to students from central and western regions, so that low-income students with good scores -- most of whom come from those areas -- will contribute to education in their hometowns.
The policy was introduced amid a situation where more education majors chose non-teaching jobs despite dire shortages of teachers in central and western China, especially rural areas.
Those who change their minds before they graduate can choose another major but must repay all tuition fees, which usually total about 10,000 annually.
(Xinhua News Agency September 4, 2008)