Hong Kong has become a destination of choice for international students hoping to study in Asia

Well positioned in world university rankings, Hong Kong has an open-door policy towards international students. The Hong Kong government has invested HK$1 billion in a bursary fund, the interest to be used to fund scholarships for international students. Universities like Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Lingnan University, Hong Kong University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong compete at a world-class level.

Belgian Achill Van den Broek, 27, is about to enter the final year of his three-year undergraduate degree in Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is majoring in Chinese politics and speaks basic Cantonese and Mandarin. “I was on my way back from Sydney to Europe from a working holiday when I decided to spend six months in Hong Kong,”

says Van den Broek. “People I met recommended Chinese U and I decided that if I wanted to study China, I would rather do it here. It’s a degree that’s only open to international students.” Van den Broek’s fellow intake includes Canadian, Dutch, Korean and some American-born Chinese students.

What is it that impresses Van den Broek the most? “Everything about Hong Kong is surprising. Coming from Europe it’s a bit of a culture shock, but if you come with an open mind you’ll soon adapt. On our campus we have trees, a lake and a waterfall. It’s a complete contrast to the bustling commercial district and harbour,” he says.

Founded in 1963, CUHK enjoys a spectacular location with panoramic views over Kolo Harbour and a mountain backdrop. The Chinese border is half an hour away by train, and half an hour in the opposite direction will bring you straight into the heart of Hong Kong itself. “We are the second oldest university in Hong Kong and we operate an exchange programme with over 200 universities all over the world,” says Grace Chow, director of admissions and financial aid. CUHK currently has around 3,800 international undergraduate and postgraduate students from over 40 countries.

A research-led university, CUHK is ranked 41st in the world and first in mainland China by the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings. The Australian Institute High Impact University List rates it number one in Hong Kong. Undergraduate fees are £7,950, but postgraduate research-based degrees are a lot lower at £3,340, and researchers are paid a monthly stipend to encourage excellence.

“Our bachelors degrees in quantitative finance, risk management and Chinese trade are particularly attractive to business and finance students, many of whom get to spend a year in China as part of their course,” says Chow.

CUHK operates a collegiate system, with students assigned to one of six colleges, providing a focus for social life and pastoral care. A leading financial capital, Hong Kong’s economy is booming and there is full employment. Many overseas students are aiming to stay on and work there in one of the many international banks and financialservices firms after they graduate. Some join Chinese companies on the mainland.

Working as an equity analyst for an investment bank, John Besant- Jones is studying for an MBA at Chinese U. “You’re not going to learn about China through postgraduate study in the West,” he says. “You’ve got to get yourself over here. It’s incredibly easy to get a student visa and you don’t need employer sponsorship to find work as a graduate. It took me 10 days to get my work visa, which is renewable every year.”

Positioning itself as the gateway to China, Hong Kong’s higher education institutions attract a world-class faculty, and students will receive an international education combining the best of Western practice with China’s intellectual tradition.

An agreement with mainland China guarantees the compatibility of Hong Kong and Chinese study programmes. This means that from 2012 all Hong Kong universities are moving from a three-year to a fouryear undergraduate degree. Strong academic links mean some universities allow foreign students to study for a year or two in Beijing or Shanghai through partnerships with Chinese universities.

Listed by THE rankings as number one in Asia, Hong Kong University is strong in finance, economics and global business, as well as medicine, law and actuarial science. Recent rankings in social sciences, geography and politics are expected to attract more international students. “We started admitting students from mainland China in 1999 and student numbers exploded since we opened up to the rest of the world in 2005,” says Professor John Spinks, director of undergraduate admissions and student exchange.

The undergraduate tuition fee of £9,300 a year may appear high in relation to current UK fees but is competitive when compared to the fees charged by US universities, while generous government subsidies bring the cost of accommodation down to an affordable level. Admissions criteria are high – HKU demands three A-levels at A-star, 40 out of 45 for the International Baccalaureate, and SAT2s from US candidates. There are nine international applicants for every place. Academically, HKU places emphasis on teaching quality and putting the students at the centre of learning. “We make them responsible for their own learning and also, of course, give them the freedom you would expect from a UK university,” says Prof Spinks. He adds: “There is also an Asian cultural perspective on learning and academic achievement, with high respect given to teachers.”

Altogether there are eight government-funded universities in Hong Kong. Between them, these institutions offer dozens of major areas of study and all use English as the medium of instruction for most of their courses. In addition, many offer crash courses in Chinese language so that foreign students can make the most of their stay.

“Hong Kong universities have led the way in Asia when it comes to attracting high-quality international students and staff, with the best universities taking nearly 20 per cent of their students from overseas.

With the fee rises at English universities, studying in Hong Kong will become an increasingly attractive option to UK students,” says Danny Byrne, editor of TopUniversities.com.