An increasing number of Hong Kong students have applied to pursue higher education in Taiwan in the past two years, the South China Morning Post has found.
The number has risen from 4,097 in 2012 - when a double cohort of students competed for university places - to 4,585 in 2013, according to statistics from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong.
This year, 3,130 students out of about 79,000 sitting the Diploma of Secondary Education this summer, have already applied for the 2014-15 intake through a "first-stage" admissions procedure based on academic performance in the last three years.
It is a 50.9 per cent increase year on year compared to 1,595 applicants in 2013.
The trend contrasts with the number of students applying to mainland universities - which dropped from about 4,000 in 2012 to 3,063 in 2013.
The rate of success for applications to universities in Taiwan and on the mainland is similar - about 55 per cent.
An education consultant said applications to Taiwan's universities outran those for the mainland as the admissions procedures were more "lenient" and the offer of a place served as a safety net if they failed to get into preferred universities.
"Many students are not confident in doing well in their DSE exams but they can choose to apply for Taiwanese universities using their performances at school instead of public exams," said Clement Ng Po-shing, vice-director of student guidance centre the Hok Yau Club.
He said only about 50 per cent of students who were offered places in Taiwan actually accepted them.
He added that some students applying to study outside the city also preferred Taiwan over the mainland as they viewed it as culturally more akin to Hong Kong.
Taiwanese education officials attributed the increase in applications to the lack of supply of university places in Hong Kong.
"Students want to continue their studies but some of them don't have the chance in Hong Kong even when they've met the requirements," said Peter Sheu Ruey-horng, a deputy director of the Taipei cultural office in Hong Kong.
Students can choose from 149 Taiwanese universities or higher education institutes, of which 51 are publicly funded while the rest are private.
Asked about concerns that applicants will now be drawn to the mainland to benefit from an annual HK$15,000 grant proposed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Lee Chee-man, director of the office's Highwise Service Foundation, said: "We already have a wide range of different scholarships in place for Hong Kong students."
For first-year bachelor programme admissions, students can apply through the first-stage procedure or a second-stage process where they are randomly assigned a place based on their DSE results and list of preferences.
The second stage is currently open for applications until March 28.
As of last year, associate degree and higher diploma graduates can apply to Taiwan universities through a direct admissions scheme, where they can be admitted into the third year of four-year bachelor programmes at selected technology-focused institutions.