HK uni eyeing bigger share of S'pore students

HONG KONG - Hong Kong University (HKU), which jostles for places with the National University of Singapore in world rankings, is now vying for top A-level students from Singapore.

And because of the sizeable number of Singaporeans at HKU - 158, of whom about 90 are undergraduates - it will, from this year, be conducting admissions interviews in Singapore.

Asians, including Hong Kong residents, used to head to British, American and Australian universities, but are increasingly turning to other Asian countries these days, said HKU director of undergraduate admissions and international exchange John Spinks.

"The booming Asian economies present good job opportunities. It also helps that many Asian universities, including those in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, are rising in the world university league tables," Professor Spinks, who is here on a visit, told The Straits Times.

HKU, which offers all its courses in English, was placed 26th in the latest London-based education consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings, two places behind NUS.

Like NUS, HKU is a comprehensive research university offering a range of courses from medicine to arts and social sciences.

But Singaporeans tend to go for business, finance and economics-related courses. Many students who fail to get into medicine and dentistry in the local institutions also try for HKU.

According to Prof Spinks, Singaporeans entering HKU tend to have good A-level results, with many boasting three or four As. They also usually graduate with high grade-point averages, he said. HKU's yearly employment surveys show that close to 100 per cent of its graduates, including foreign students, land jobs within six to nine months of finishing their degrees, he added.

Undergraduate tuition fees for international students are HK$135,000 (S$22,000) a year, compared with the $9,000 business degree students pay at NUS.

But half of all international undergraduates at HKU receive some form of scholarship, ranging from a few thousand US dollars to US$23,000 (S$29,000), covering all tuition fees and some living expenses, Prof Spinks said.

Also, HKU charges the same fee for all degrees, including medicine and dentistry. At NUS, medical students pay $23,000 a year.

Noting the Government's move to cut the proportion of foreign students in Singapore universities to less than 15 per cent of their intake, he said HK universities want more diversity. HKU, for instance, can take in up to 600 international students, or 20 per cent of its undergraduate intake of 3,000 a year.

"There is also tremendous competition for places at HKU from locals as well as foreigners, but we need to balance that against the need for student diversity as well as the need to draw top talent to Hong Kong," he said.

Foreign students in Hong Kong, including those who receive scholarships, have no bond and can stay on for up to a year to seek employment. Singapore, however, requires foreign students who received tuition subsidies to work here for three years.

Singapore students applying to HKU said they decided to do so after failing to get a place in competitive faculties such as business and medicine at local universities, despite having top grades.

One of them is Hwa Chong Institution student Joshua Lim, 20, who hopes to study medicine. Despite having 4As, he failed to get into NUS' medical faculty. "Hong Kong is culturally familiar and close to home," he said.

Ms Alicia Wong, 19, who is considering a finance degree at HKU, said she is drawn by the job opportunities in Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong is an international financial centre with many multinational financial institutions. It is also the premier trading hub between mainland China and the rest of the world," she said.

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