Today, local students pay about HK$43,000 a year to study at a university in Hong Kong. For international students, studying at a university in the United States can cost up to US$42,000 a year. It would cost them about GBP10,000 (HK$124,000) to study in Britain and C$12,000 (HK$92,000) to study in Canada. But studying in Germany costs only about Euro1,000 (HK$10,700) a year, and in France, about Euro500.
Free public education up to high school graduation is available in all these places. So students that have attended school free of charge are suddenly plunged into a world of costly higher education.
Many turn to loans and find themselves graduating, as a sign held by an Occupy Wall Street protester said, with: "A BA, $30,000 in debt, and no job". This is the gloomy prospect many university students face after they take off their graduation gown.
Today, many students are in the red before their working life begins. In the United States, student debt has reached US$1 trillion.
High tuition fees cause many students to avoid fields that require extended periods of studying, such as medicine and engineering.
Some say high tuition costs, which hinder the children of less well-off parents from attending university, are keeping Britain's rigid class structure in place. In low-fee Europe, on the other hand, class differentiation is minimal.
However, it can be argued that higher education is a choice and so should not be paid for by the government but by the student. Yet even in an economy where degree holders are struggling to find jobs, going to university seems more important than ever.
Those who do choose to go to university should not have to graduate with debt hanging over their heads, delaying their ability to buy a house or start a family.