After the release of the much-awaited Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) examination results, public concerns over the new liberal studies subject have largely been dismissed, with more than 90 per cent of candidates scoring at least level 2, the minimum required for university admission.
Students who meet the minimum university entry requirements of level 3 in English and Chinese and level 2 in mathematics, liberal studies and one other subject will know by mid-August whether they can enter the institution and academic programme of their choice. As a finale to the decade-long education reform, the successful candidates will receive a four-year rather than three-year university education.
To accommodate the unprecedented double cohort of graduates from the old and new systems, universities have pledged to reserve the same number of first-year places for HKDSE and Hong Kong A-level examination candidates, while making frantic efforts to create extra space and facilities.
About 70,000 HKDSE and 41,000 HK A-Level candidates this year competed for a total of 30,000 publicly funded degree places.
For those who fail to get subsidised places, competition is keener than ever this year, but the chances are most school leavers will go on to further education in September, although not necessarily in line with their preferred choice.
More tertiary places are available this year with the establishment of new private colleges offering degree and sub-degree courses. One example is the Centennial College, established by the University of Hong Kong. It has been swamped with applications for its degree programmes, which cost HK$82,000 a year.
Community colleges, particularly those run by universities' continuing education arms, have also reported record applications.
The number of places on offer for associate degrees (AD) and the practicality oriented higher diploma (HD this year is more than 40,000, up slightly from last year.
Another encouraging development is the increased provision of places for underperformers in public examinations. The variety of courses available is bewildering but they give struggling students a valuable second chance. For instance, the Lingnan Institute of Further Education (LIFE), under Lingnan University, has launched a unique one-year 'Advanced Diploma' catering for students with only four Level 2s, which falls short of the entry requirements for AD or HD programmes.
It also offers the LIFE Diploma, which is on a par with programmes run by other institutions such as the Vocational Training Council.
Indeed, options abound in degree or sub-degree programmes, either self- or government-funded, in part-time or full-time education. But the question remains: will there will be an adequate supply of jobs for future degree holders?
The last thing Hong Kong wants to see is frustrated graduates stuck in boring, low-paid jobs that make them wonder why they spent all the time and effort in getting a degree.