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Poor Students Set to Benefit from State Grant

A special State grant of 800 million yuan (US$99 million) will be available every year for poor students at secondary vocational schools nationwide starting next month.

The grant, allocated by the central government, is to help cover tuition for 800,000 poor students at public and private schools. Each student will 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 must come from very poor families, and certification of their family background issued by local authorities is required, the ministry said.

The standard for determining exactly who qualifies varies from province to province.

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

The only aid project at the moment is for poor university students, but Wu said the central government is making efforts to establish a comprehensive aid system to help all students from impoverished families, no matter whether the student is 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 per cent of the total 16 million. Vocational schools are an alternative to ordinary secondary schools, offering education with a focus on work skills.

Wu said the majority of vocational students in China are 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 for secondary vocational schools varies 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 excellent students at secondary vocational schools, and has encouraged financial institutes to provide low-interest loans to vocational students.

Orphans, the handicapped 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 per cent of the total number of secondary vocational students may get financial aid in different forms.

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 centre, is among the first group of students who benefited from the local aid.

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 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 aid from the State grant, and more importantly, "rural students have another way to get out of the countryside, other than going to university."

(China Daily August 17, 2006)

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