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Hotline Safeguards College Dreams for Poor Youth

Burdened by his heavy luggage and the scant amount of money in his pocket, Li Ming (anonymous) arrived at Weifang University of Science and Technology only to be told he couldn't be enrolled. Helpless as he felt, the poor would-be student had never expected a phone call would change his life.

Not familiar with the funding application procedure, Li didn't bring a poverty certificate to the university as he was told. Thus, he couldn't be officially admitted as a student for financial aid.

He then wandered around Weifang City in east China's Shandong Province in desperation, his money almost used up.

Then he took a chance and called a hotline operated by the Ministry of Education between August 15 and September 15 ahead of the autumn semester. The hotline's aim was to serve students who wanted to go to university but couldn't afford the tuition.

In less than three days, the hotline workers made a series of calls, verified Li's situation and finally settled the issue with the university. Now he could focus on his academic performance.

For others like Li, the hotline had so far ensured the college dreams for 39 poor students. Likewise, they had met with various obstacles during the funding procedure and could have dropped out without enough money to cover the study expenses.

Hotline principal Ma Wenhua said these kinds of calls must be dealt with immediately -- within three days at most.

She pointed out clearly, as the policy dictated, some poor families might still overlook what they should do to get support for their child. "And most of these students only found out they couldn't be accepted when arriving at the universities. They couldn't hold up for long in a strange place with what they had at hand."

Following the calls, most of the 39 poor kids were brought to stay at a college dormitory in the first place before their various money problems were solved.

"As knowledge of the funding policy had more vigorously spread in these years, most local students and colleges knew it very well," said Ma, also a National Center for Student Assistance Administration official. She said the number of calls received this year had dropped by 1,414 compared with 2007.

Now in its fourth year, since the August 15 date had roll around, the 20 workers on standby at the hotline had received 2,363 calls at any given time.

Statistics show 71 percent of the calls were made to consult about the funding policy, while 28 percent (654 calls) complained local colleges had failed to abide by the rules to support the students. The rest reported some colleges had given fewer funds than they should, among other problems.

Ma said, as for those complaints, the hotline team would report the problems to student assistance centers at the provincial level every five working days. In addition, each complaint must be dealt with within one week.

Currently, the hotline had given responses to 396 calls and the rest were under investigation.

"The hotline provides a channel for students and parents to consult and report various problems, drawing the funding organizations closer to those poor children," Ma said. "But more importantly, it directly brought the central government's care to the poor students."

Statistics show the government spent 27.3 billion yuan (about US$4 billion) last year to aid college students, up 49 percent from the previous year. The ministry pledged earlier this year the government would ensure no students drop out of colleges or universities because of poverty.

Among the 20 million students in the country's public and private universities and colleges last year, about 20 percent were from poverty-stricken backgrounds, official figures show.

"Our hotline aims to try our best to safeguard poor students access to college," Ma added.

(Xinhua News Agency September 22, 2008)

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