Special grants offered to poor students
"Now eligibility for financial aid will be extended to ordinary but diligent poor students."
For those who fail to get the State scholarship and grant, applying for State loans might be another choice. Since 2000, when the loan system was initialized, it has aided 1.53 million college students by issuing 12.25 billion (US$1.51 billion) in interest-free loans. Any student from an impoverished family is qualified to apply.
However, the vice-minister said the loans currently issued are far from what is actually needed. "According to our estimates, to ensure that poor students finish their four-year study in colleges, at least 10 billion yuan (US$1.23 billion) should be granted every year," he said. "But in 2004-05, only half that amount was issued."
According to the ministry, eight provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have not yet granted State loans to poor students: Hainan, Tianjin, Heilongjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia.
"Because part of the interest is paid from local public revenues, some provinces and banks are looking for excuses to not grant interest-free loans to students, and colleges don't want to be involved," Zhang said.
Education authorities also reiterated that the "Green Passage" programme, in which poor students may enrol and defer tuition payments, should be continued this year.
Last year, the programme helped 290,000 new students enrol on time, 11 per cent of the total number of poor students.
Zhang also revealed yesterday that in the revision of the law on compulsory education, children in rural areas will benefit from free compulsory education in the next five years. Currently, legislators are soliciting opinions from the public for the revision.
The core issue under discussion is how to make sure enough funds are pooled to make up for the funding shortage for compulsory education.
In 2003, the country invested 136.5 billion yuan (US$16.9 billion) in compulsory education, 47.6 billion yuan (US$5.87 billion) short of what was required.
Meanwhile, the country's fiscal spending on education accounted for 3.28 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003, as compared to the world average of 4 per cent.
The compulsory education law currently in force has vague stipulations that governments at all levels should guarantee the education budget. It stops short of clarifying what happens if it is not guaranteed. One of the major tasks of the revised law should be to clear up the grey areas.