Not every student is able to gain admission to an elite university, and fortunately there are other paths to post-secondary education. Monir Khan has found an English-speaking environment that fulfils his needs, and has just completed the first of two years in the international business programme at Yew Chung Community College in Kowloon Bay.
Khan, 22, from Bangladesh, says that environment and the low teacher-to-student ratio proved helpful to non-Chinese-speaking students like him.
"Our lecturers are very supportive and attentive, which makes a lot of difference for students, especially for those in the first year of the associate degree programme. Whenever we have a problem, our lecturers will immediately spot it and help us out. Our classes are very interactive. This goes to show how important it is to have a small class," says Khan.
The teacher-to-student ratio at Yew Chung is about 1:10, which is a huge bonus compared with other colleges.
"It goes both ways to help non-Chinese students like myself and also Chinese students who can truly improve their spoken English. There are students who didn't really have the confidence to converse in English at the beginning of the school year, and then they transformed and became so confident that they were able to speak reasonable English at the end of the first year. It's just unbelievable," he says.
Yew Chung is one of 19 so-called sub-degree institutions in Hong Kong, meaning they are licensed to provide post-secondary instruction but do not award bachelor's degrees.
Khan likes that Yew Chung also offers Chinese study for non-Chinese students. "This is a really good thing to offer a two-way language thing," he says. "It's not that I can speak and write Chinese fluently as a result, but at least I am given a chance to understand Chinese culture. It helps to create an open campus culture for students to learn to embrace diversity and build an international mindset."
Dr Betty Chan Po-king, Yew Chung's founder, says she has no intention of developing the school into another large university to compete with University of Hong Kong or Chinese University. She likens Yew Chung to a unique boutique hotel that offers "premium quality services to satisfy a unique market niche".
After running international schools in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Qingdao and California in the US, and driven by the belief that students should have an international education experience from early childhood to the post-secondary level, Chan created Yew Chung in 2008.
"We are targeting quality and substance rather than merely quantity, which is already being taken care of by other, older universities. We've worked diligently to forge a curriculum that equips students with the skills required to compete in the 21st century," she says.
Its early childhood education associate degree programme, offered for the first time this school year, is not only the first ECE associate degree programme in Hong Kong, but also now the most popular course at Yew Chung.
Chan says an international education shouldn't be confined to students in international schools, so Yew Chung offers internationally oriented two-year AD programmes that give students a global perspective.
All students, who come from 17 countries and regions, are encouraged to speak English at all times in Yew Chung's all-English learning environment on campus, but non-Chinese speaking students are also required to learn and speak Putonghua. After all, with China's economy ranked No2 in the world, Putonghua skills, especially in this part of Asia, could come in handy.
Another factor in establishing Yew Chung was a call by the first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, for greater diversification in providing post-secondary education to the school-leaving population, Chan says.
Yew Chung plans to become a fully fledged university before long. But for now, it's taking full advantage of that "boutique" status to the students who prefer that kind of learning environment.
"We may be small, but we are well-equipped and highly resourceful," Chan says. "Being small has its advantages. We are able to maintain a low teacher-to-student ratio, which provides better interaction between students and teaching staff.
"We have a genuine English teaching-learning environment. We provide places for local students who are non-Chinese-speaking and offer scholarships to international students."