While the high achievers celebrated, students who did less well in Hong Kong's final public A-level examinations took to the streets yesterday to secure a future for themselves.
More than 18,200 full-time Form Seven students met the minimum requirement for subsided university places, 58 per cent of those who sat the exams. But with just 13,500 places available, about 5,000 will join those who didn't do well enough for university in seeking a job or alternative education.
Kelly Chan achieved four Ds and headed to the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU Space).
'I'm signing up for the diploma in real estate management,' she said. 'An associate degree in business management is my second choice.'
Associate degrees have grown in popularity among secondary school leavers who see them as a stepping stone to a full degree course. Almost 7,000 students registered for associate degrees and higher diplomas at HKU Space's community college yesterday, up 40 per cent on last year. There will be places for just half of them.
Their interest comes despite criticism of fees for associate degree courses, typically HK$50,000 per year for a full-time course, and the fact graduation does not necessarily secure a place at university. While popular among students, associate degrees are not regarded well by bosses, with graduates of 14 of the 17 institutions offering such degrees earning on average less than HK$10,000 a month, according to a report last month.
Some look instead to higher diplomas. While such courses can lead to university, they also offer a recognised professional qualification in subjects as diverse as childcare and engineering.
'It's more practical,' said Katherine Lai Sze-wing, who signed up for a childcare diploma at the Vocational Training Council's Haking Wong campus yesterday. 'Even if I don't get admitted to a degree course, at least I'll still get a professional certificate.'
The council will offer about 2,000 higher diploma places for students who've just completed their A-levels.
Self-financed undergraduate degrees, which are offered by several local institutions, are also popular.
At the privately funded Centennial College, set up by HKU earlier this year, fees are HK$82,000 per year, almost double the typical HK$42,000 per year tuition at public universities.
Angela Wong Man-ling was waiting to collect her offer of a place on a self-financed degree course at HKU Space's Admiralty centre. 'I was told that this is the same as any other bachelor's degrees in accounting,' she said. 'Besides, as an accountant in Hong Kong, you need to sit for Hong Kong's accounting qualification exams anyway [as well as getting a degree].'
With the option of studying in traditionally popular destinations such as Britain and the United States proving too expensive for most, some students are looking to universities in Taiwan and on the mainland.
Mainland official say as many as 4,200 Hong Kong students - both those taking the A-levels and others studying for its replacement, the Diploma of Secondary Education - sought places at 63 institutions on the mainland before their exams. A further 4,000 looked to study in Taiwan.