Col­lege pays mil­lions in ‘stealth sub­si­dies’ to poor stu­dents

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By ZHU LIXIN in He­fei zhulixin@chi­

A col­lege in eastern China that uses big data to iden­tify stu­dents in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­culty says it has paid out mil­lions of yuan in “stealth sub­si­dies” over the past 13 years.

The Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy of China in­tro­duced a com­puter sys­tem in 2004 that records and an­a­lyzes spend­ing in its cam­pus can­teens, and be­gan us­ing it to iden­tify strug­gling stu­dents.

At first, the sys­tem sim­ply cal­cu­lated the av­er­age amount stu­dents spent in a month, but this was not sci­en­tific, ac­cord­ing to Dong Yu, di­rec­tor of stu­dent af­fairs for the col­lege in He­fei, An­hui province.

“We quickly re­al­ized there could be girls on a diet and stu­dents who re­turn home to eat,” he said, adding that tech­ni­cians op­ti­mized the sta­tis­ti­cal ap­proach in 2005.

Li Feng, an em­ployee of the of­fice, added: “Since then, we’ve been cal­cu­lat­ing data, such as how many meals a stu­dent eats and how much he or she spends on av­er­age, and we com­pare these data with the av­er­age for sim­i­lar stu­dents.”

For ex­am­ple, if a stu­dent eats 70 meals in a month, the sys­tem will com­pile the data for all those who had 70 meals that month and com­pare the stu­dent’s spend­ing against the av­er­age for that group. “If the amount is far lower than the av­er­age, we will sus­pect that stu­dent is in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­culty,” he said.

The next step is to con­sult with class ad­vis­ers, who will be asked for their opin­ion on the stu­dent’s over­all sit­u­a­tion.

Those who make the list for a dis­cre­tionary sub­sidy re­ceive an email and have 160 yuan ($23.50) cred­ited to their mil­lion yuan can­teen card — which can also be used in other cam­pus stores — for the month. The list is up­dated on a monthly ba­sis.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the stu­dent af­fairs of­fice, the univer­sity has paid a sub­sidy 40,000 times since 2004, pro­vid­ing a to­tal of 6 mil­lion yuan to needy stu­dents.

“In­ter­est­ingly, we have found that the can­teen ex­pen­di­tures of the cred­ited stu­dents does not rise con­sid­er­ably, while their ex­pen­di­tures in cam­pus fruit stores and book­stores will rise after they get the money,” Li said.

Li said the sub­sidy is just one way the col­lege sup­ports poor stu­dents. Schol­ar­ships, sub­si­dies and loans have been avail­able since 1999.

“The stealth sub­si­dies are aimed at help­ing stu­dents while pro­tect­ing their pri­vacy and dig­nity,” he said.

Sub­si­dies paid to needy stu­dents by the Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy of China since 2004

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