In the past the Hong Kong schooling system was modelled on UK education. However, since the handover to Chinese governance in 1997, a number of reforms have taken place to move the education system closer to that of mainland China. At the age of six, students begin nine years of compulsory education – six years at primary school and three at junior secondary school. It is also becoming increasingly normal for children to continue for at least another three years in senior secondary school and perhaps continue to university or enter vocational training.
In Hong Kong most primary and secondary schools operate a three-term academic year that runs from late August through to June. Universities usually run two terms from September through to May, although depending on the course type some students may not finish until July.
There are currently 18 degree-awarding institutions in Hong Kong, including some of the top-ranked universities in Asia. Eight are publicly funded through the University Grants Committee (UGC), while others are privately or independently financed. Although the majority of university students in Hong Kong currently come from mainland China, there is a growing international student community there too. Applications for university are administered by the Joint University Programmes Admissions System (JUPAS). Most institutions are oversubscribed and competition for places is high, but unsuccessful applicants have the alternative to enter vocational training.
Despite the relatively substantial public funding on offer, universities in Hong Kong do charge tuition fees. These vary between different intuitions and course types, and international students often pay significantly more than Chinese students. Scholarships may be available to help students pay for their studies, while the Student Financial Assistance Agency provides a range of financing options too.
The recent educational reforms have made a major change to university courses in Hong Kong. Where previously undergraduate students studied for three years, most now remain for four. Institutions offer a full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. English is the main language of tuition, although most establishments also offer taught courses in Chinese and will provide language tuition to those who need it.
As in mainland China, research is a growing area in Hong Kong and carries considerable prestige. There are a number of public and private research funds available through the government and the UGC, and universities are increasingly trying to attract corporate funding to help raise research standards even further.
Primary and secondary education
Since the education reforms, Hong Kong’s state primary and secondary schools have followed a new curriculum with the aim of improving standards and adjusting the system to be more in line with that of the rest of China. The curriculum content is broad and is mostly taught in Chinese. However, large numbers of private and international schools remain and they primarily teach in English. Expats often choose to send their children to these schools to study specific qualifications such as British GCSEs or A-Levels, American Advanced Placements (APs) or the International Baccalaureate (IB). Private and international schools are usually fee-paying, although some employers may subsidise education for the children of staff members.
Preschool and childcare options
Although not compulsory, children in Hong Kong may attend kindergarten for up to three years before starting school. Early-years education is regarded as high priority and there are various schemes in place to help parents to cover the cost, including the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme, which can be accessed by foreign nationals with right of abode in Hong Kong.