The lure of free tertiary education in Germany saw dozens of students swamp the country's stall at a fair in Causeway Bay yesterday, even as Hong Kong frets over a dearth of foreign students at local universities.
The booth of the German Academic Exchange Service was busy with students and parents who were snapping up programme booklets and study guides handed out by staff members at the fair, organised by the European Union.
The buzz of excitement reflects official statistics that show more Hongkongers are venturing abroad for studies - and that the popular destinations are no longer restricted to English-speaking countries.
"The close to none or even zero tuition fees that German universities charge is a big incentive for me to find out how I can meet their requirements for admission," said Keith Tsoi Kwan-yee, who once went on a 10-month exchange programme in Germany and had been hooked by its culture ever since.
The strong interest comes as figures from the University Grants Committee show eight out of 10 non-local students enrolled at local universities for the 2011-12 academic year are from the mainland. The city also faces challenges in making foreign students feel at home; there are not enough hostel places to accommodate more overseas students.
Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim said that in the first phase of the new senior secondary curriculum, "we saw 7 per cent of the students go abroad to study, slightly more than the 5 to 6 per cent in the past".
Places such as Germany are appealing as their colleges adopt English as the medium of instruction for more programmes.
"We see a rising interest in studying at continental universities … because increasingly over the past 10 to 15 years, they have started to offer English language as the teaching medium, making the universities more accessible," said Vincent Piket, head of the office of the European Union to Hong Kong and Macau.
"At the same time, they offer the opportunity for learning one more foreign language. That is very attractive for students."
Hugo Wu, 16, a secondary five student at the fair, has set his sights on Germany - for half a year, he learned the language at the local Goethe-Institut.
"No matter what - even if I'm admitted by local universities - I prefer studying in Germany," said Wu.
The education fair features some 50 universities from 11 European countries. It will be open today from 1pm to 6pm at the Central Library.