Scramble for university places
Universities face an uphill task to vet applications for next year in time as the largest number of students yet vie for tertiary places in Hong Kong.
Nearly 120,000 students are expected to apply for university places next year - up from about 40,000 - as the old and new secondary school syllabuses cross over.
Some of the eight public universities have brought forward their admissions programmes by about six months ahead of two entry exams.
'The process has to speed up or we may not get it done in time,' said one university official.
Under the reforms, students taking A-level exams and those taking the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) under the new 3-3-4 system will both enter university next year.
With the retirement of the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, 77,000 senior secondary students under the new system will compete at the HKDSE level as a single batch, while the A-level takers will compete separately. The government has pledged to double the number of entry-level university places to 30,000 to cater for the transition.
With the record-high numbers, admission officials will have to scramble to complete interviews and screening in the next few months as the universities strive to complete new buildings for the influx of students.
With a greater chance of students getting the same score, given the larger pool taking the exam, the University of Hong Kong has begun interviewing thousands of youngsters recommended by school principals.
An HKU spokesman said the interviews, which will be held until February, would be used as 'tie-breakers' if students got similar scores in the exams. Chinese University, meanwhile, begins interviewing students with good academic records this month. A second round of interviews will start in May, a spokeswoman said.
Wan Chi-keung, who is involved in academic development at Polytechnic University, said it would be 'a hectic year'. It plans to single out at least 250 students who select PolyU as their preferred option in early interviews conducted under the Joint University Programmes Admission System. These students, who will be interviewed after exams end in May, would be elite students on a par with the best in the world, Wan said.
The government says everything will proceed smoothly next year despite the huge spike in the student intake. But there are concerns the universities might not have sufficient facilities and staff to maintain educational standards. The number of applicants for the following intake is expected to drop, as A-level exams are replaced by the HKDSE, although it should still be higher than average.
Under the new system, students will take the HKDSE for six years instead of seven and there will be four years of university instead of three. Universities have put more emphasis on general knowledge to broaden graduates' skills beyond their majors.