Celebrated for its fusion of Eastern and Western cultures, traditional elements and modern competitiveness, Hong Kong has established itself as one of Asia’s dominant economic powers – and is also emerging as one of the region’s leading study destinations. With three universities in Hong Kong ranked within the global top 50 and another three in the top 300, this dynamic and diverse city-state boasts one of the world’s most impressive concentrations of internationally ranked institutions – a significant factor behind its inclusion among the world’s top 10 cities for students.
Here, traditional Chinese culture and architecture exist alongside an iconic skyline of modern skyscrapers, visible reminders of Hong Kong’s status as a world-leading hub for commerce, finance, trade and logistics. Hong Kong also harbors ambitions of becoming a regional, and indeed global, hub for higher education, and is investing in schemes aimed at increasing international student enrolments, diversifying the tertiary sector and nurturing its already strong culture of research and innovation.
Many universities in Hong Kong already boast the kind of reputation needed to attract students and scholars from around the world. This combines with the various attractions of life in Hong Kong – a multicultural and outward-looking society offering some of the most diversified experiences you could hope to access in such a compact space – and the wide use of English both within higher education and in daily interactions, to make Hong Kong an appealing choice for many prospective students seeking a relatively accessible Asian destination. That said, anyone planning to study in Hong Kong should definitely allow for a period of transition; life in this fast-paced, action-packed metropolis is likely to feel like something of a whirlwind experience to begin with.
There are almost 20 degree-awarding higher education institutions in Hong Kong, of which eight are publicly funded. All eight public universities in Hong Kong use English as the medium of instruction for the majority of courses, and all are well-known and respected well beyond the locality.
In the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017®, Hong Kong’s highest entry is the University of Hong Kong (HKU) at 27th place, overtaking the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), which is ranked 36th. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) is also not far behind at 44th.
In the 2016 edition of the QS University Rankings: Asia, Hong Kong claims four representatives among the 10 top universities in Asia alone, again led by the University of Hong Kong (HKU), which retains 2nd place in Asia, while HKUST also places strongly at 4th.
Looking at the QS World University Rankings by Subject, you can see that universities in Hong Kong are often world-leading in technical and engineering subjects. The University of Hong Kong, for example, is ranked internationally for 37 out of 42 subjects, placing within the world’s top 50 for 29 academic disciplines. It comes first in the world for dentistry, sixth for education & training and ninth for both mineral & mining engineering and civil & structural engineering.
HKUST meanwhile places within the world’s top 50 schools for computer science, business and management, accounting and finance, civil and structural engineering, statistics and operational research, electrical engineering, economics and econometrics, chemistry, chemical engineering, materials sciences, mechanical engineering and mathematics.
Since governance of Hong Kong was handed over from the UK to China in 1997, the city has held the status of a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. It has its own government, currency and legal system, and social norms are often different to those of the mainland – “one country, two systems”, as the saying goes.
For many incoming students, Hong Kong appeals as a base from which to explore both traditional and modern-day Chinese culture, either by travelling more widely or through daily opportunities to explore Chinese architecture and traditions, sample local cuisines, learn the language and get to know both native Hong Kongers and those who’ve relocated from the mainland.
But of course Hong Kong is not just an entry-point from which to peep into China; it’s also an exciting and diverse place to live in its own right. This is, after all, one of the four ‘Asian Tigers’; having experienced dramatic growth over the past half-century, Hong Kong is now one of the world’s leading knowledge-based economies. You may even consider staying on to work here after graduation, launching your career in the city’s thriving financial and professional services sector, or perhaps finding a role in its busy retail or import-export markets.
As one of the most densely populated areas in the world, it’s impossible to describe life in Hong Kong without reference to the crowds, packed streets and highly competitive (and priced) fight for accommodation. However, there are also more positive aspects to the city’s compact geography, which, combined with an efficient and relatively inexpensive public transport system, means it’s easy to get around and to experience many widely varied aspects of life in Hong Kong in a short space of time.
You might pop out to explore some traditional markets in between studies, pausing to window-shop at a few flagship designer stores on your way back. Perhaps you’ll rise early to join in some tai chi on the waterfront, or stay out all night at one of the city’s famous clubs. Or maybe you’ll enjoy some downtime by taking a short boat trip to one of the nearby islands, where beaches and mountains offer a calming contrast to the non-stop urban bustle of the city center.
The academic year in Hong Kong has just two semesters, one from early September to late December, and a second from mid-January to May. Hong Kong’s university application deadlines vary, but are usually between December and May, for courses starting the following September.
Applicants for undergraduate degrees will be expected to have completed secondary education and gained satisfactory results in their country’s leaving exams (such as A-levels, Baccalaureate or SATs). Public universities in Hong Kong teach in English, and proof of proficiency in English is also required for non-native speakers; this means taking an exam such as the IELTS or TOEFL.
Once you’ve been offered a place, the university should arrange a local sponsor for your visa application. You’ll have to submit a visa application form, as well as providing proof of identity, evidence of your academic qualifications and a financial statement (either of your own finances or those of someone who is supporting you).
The Immigration Department is also likely to request details of where you intend to live while you study in Hong Kong, so it’s best to arrange this well in advance, either through the university or independently. Most visas need to be renewed annually; remember to do this in good time (at least four weeks before the expiry date).
Tuition fees in Hong Kong vary depending on the course and the university. As of May 2014, the government website StudyinHongKong.edu.hk estimates international tuition fees for most courses to be between HK$90,000 and HK$265,000 per year (approx. US$11,500 to 34,000). Another major cost is accommodation. The government guidance here is to allow HK$15,000 to 45,000 per year (US$1,900 to 5,800) if planning to stay in a university-owned student hostel, or HK$96,000 to 180,000 (US$12,600 to 23,000) for a privately rented one-bedroom flat. Additional living expenses are estimated at around HK$50,000 (US$6,400) per year.
Universities in Hong Kong are generally very keen to attract international students, and often offer scholarships to help support the most talented overseas applicants. Scholarships for international students are also offered by the Hong Kong government. Major government-funded schemes include:
International students planning to study in Hong Kong should also be aware that there are restrictions on the types of part-time work they can take up; however, study-related internships, part-time jobs on campus and summer vacation work are generally fine. When your visa is approved you should receive a ‘No Objection Letter’ detailing the types of employment you can apply for while you study in Hong Kong.