Hong Kong’s population of 7 million has a literacy rate of 95 percent, and 16 percent of Hong Kong people over the age of 15 have at least a Bachelor’s degree (Source: Hong Kong Education and Manpower Bureau). Compulsory, subsidized schooling is offered until the end of high school (12th Grade), effective 2008.
Hong Kong’s Education and Manpower Bureau revamped its education system last year. Instead of taking two exams (one in Form 5 and one in Form 7), students are now required to take only one; the Hong Kong Certificate of Secondary Education (which was previously for those continuing on from Form 5 to Form 6) and the Hong Kong A-Level Exam (which was previously for Form 7/high school senior students continuing on to university) will be replaced by the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE), which will be administered during the last year of high school. The ‘3-3-4’ proposal means that students will attend three years of compulsory, subsidized junior high school, three years of non-compulsory senior high school, and then four years of university. This is a significant change from the previously used British model which meant that Hong Kong students had 7 years of secondary school and entered college at the age of 19.
In addition, the HKDSE will focus more on a broad, liberal education similar to that in the United States. Students will only have 4 compulsory ‘core’ subjects and can take up to 4 additional electives, including new subjects such as visual and performing arts, design and technology or foreign languages. These changes will make Hong Kong’s curriculum much more similar to that of the United States, and therefore Hong Kong students’ transition to 4-year American universities will be much easier. As a result, parents are more likely to send their children to the United States to study.
Although the Hong Kong Government does not vigorously promote studying abroad, the United States still remains a top destination for Hong Kong students, but we are facing strong competition from Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Some Hong Kong parents feel that studying in the three mentioned Commonwealth countries is easier because they have more relaxed employment visa regulations (the U.K. even allows Hong Kong students visa-free study) and immigration laws that allow students to develop their careers in these countries. However, the U.S. student visa approval rate for Hong Kong students is over 90 percent, which is helping keep the U.S. competitive.
U.S. educational institutions are gaining recognition in Hong Kong. Hong Kong parents are beginning to recognize the academic excellence of colleges outside the Ivy League, such as liberal arts colleges, the ‘public ivies,’ and community colleges. This is a result of many American institutions attending Hong Kong education shows and vigorously promoting themselves to Hong Kong schools and students.
Many Hong Kong parents employ agents to advise on overseas higher education, search for appropriate schools, and provide other services. U.S. education institutions should consider partnering with an agent in Hong Kong that can assist in promoting the school. The U.S. Commercial Service can assist U.S. institutions that need to find partners in Hong Kong. Word of mouth is also a significant factor in college choices. Many Hong Kong students return from the United States and promote their alma maters, bringing their friends and relatives to the same school.
Since the service sector in Hong Kong has grown rapidly over the last several years, business, management in tourism and hospitality, service training for cruise and convention and exhibition, engineering, computer science, and information technology have become extremely popular fields of study. Other popular fields are mathematics, fine arts, social sciences, humanities, health sciences, and MBA / EMBA programs.
A number of U.S. education institutions have found success in developing partnerships with Hong Kong schools to open Hong Kong branch campuses for undergraduate and graduate programs. While the hospitality sector has been affected by the economic downtown, the longterm prospects for hospitality and MICE sector training in the region are also excellent.
The most cost-effective way to recruit Hong Kong students is to hire a local representative because parents and students often depend on these agencies for information and assistance, admission and student visa application processing, overseas boarding recommendations and travel arrangements. Another way to disseminate information to Hong Kong students is by sending promotional materials to Hong Kong high schools and public libraries. Taking part in education fairs is also a good way to reach Hong Kong students.