With competition so tough for spots in Hong Kong universities, some secondary students are trying the mainland. The central government started an exam-free admissions policy in 2012 that allows city students to apply to universities there with their HKDSE results.
Last year, 2,279 students applied. This year, 3,249 signed up, an increase of 43 per cent.
Three students who decided to study on the mainland shared their stories with Young Post.
Major Pau Pak-wan graduated from La Salle College in 2012. He originally viewed mainland universities as a "Plan B" that he wouldn't need if his DSE scores were good enough. "I wanted to play safe [when I applied for mainland universities] because I wasn't sure if my DSE results would be good enough for [the top universities in] Hong Kong," Pau says.
That summer, he received offers from the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University, National Taiwan University in Taipei and Wuhan University in Hubei province.
He chose Wuhan, where he is now a year-two history major. He says he was attracted by the School of History because of its fine tradition of scholarship. "There are professors who are leading authorities in their areas, and they are serious about their research … I respect that attitude," he says. Another factor was that he wanted to get to know the mainland better. "Hong Kong is part of China, however mentally distant [it is] from the mainland," Pau says.
Don Chan Sze-hon is doing a master's degree in law at Peking University. He had a similar reason for deciding on the mainland.
"I wanted to learn more about the capital," says Chan, a graduate of Cognitio College (Kowloon) in 2009. "[It feels wrong] not knowing much about your own country." He was admitted to Renmin University in Beijing through the Joint Entrance Examination.
For Regina Diu Lai-yan, going to Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai in 2007 was a natural choice. She has family nearby in Guangzhou, and visited them during holidays.
"I always thought I would go to a mainland university one day," says Diu. Another factor was that her family members didn't seem to have many local friends, and thought that she'd like to make some.
Today Diu works for a Chinese-invested trading company in Hong Kong. "When I was looking for jobs in Hong Kong, my education became an advantage," she says. She focused on job opportunities related to the mainland and companies who prefer applicants who speak fluent Putonghua.
But it wasn't easy at first. Diu didn't know Putonghua.
"I had to really concentrate in class to get a rough idea ... The speaking speed [of the professors] is just too difficult for beginners," she says, so she turned to her roommates for help.
Chan had a different cultural adjustment to make: Renmin was one of many universities in northern China that have a public bath house.
"I was confused and didn't know what to do," Chan says. It took him a while to get used to it, he adds.
He also remembered thinking that, as a Hongkonger, he would be better in class than his mainland classmates, especially in English. "I was totally wrong. Many of my classmates were their provinces' top scorers. Some were even better [than me] in English," says Chan.
But Chan did adjust and stayed on for his master's. He plans to work on the mainland for a couple of years after getting the law degree to "experience the working environment here".
Pau encourages students who go to the mainland to "experience the culture by yourself. Hang out with mainland students and blend in [so you can] overcome the language obstacle gradually.
"And most importantly, keep an open mind."