The number of Hong Kong students entering universities in England has increased by almost a quarter as the overall number of overseas students in the country has declined for the first time in three decades.
Researchers say parents' uncertainty about Hong Kong's new Diploma of Secondary Education, which replaced the A Level exams, could be behind the surge, which occurred despite a rise in fees at English institutions.
More than 4,600 enrolled in undergraduate courses in 2012-2013, up 24 per cent from 2011-2012, and more than 1,000 entered postgraduate programmes, up 4 per cent, according to a study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
At the same time, overseas student numbers fell 1.5 per cent to 307,205, the first fall in 29 years.
That came as maximum tuition fees were raised to £9,000 (HK$116,000) per year from £3,465 and immigration policies were tightened.
Cyrus Lin Ka-fai, programme consultant of Hong Kong overseas study centre Education First, said many parents had lost confidence in the diploma.
"Hong Kong parents trust British education," Lin said. "Hong Kong people are emotionally attached to the country."
Sophia Chan-Combrink of the British Council said it was simple for Hong Kong residents and holders of HKSAR or British National (Overseas) passports to apply for a student visa to study in England. She said HKSAR passport holders qualified for a post-study scheme, already open to BN(O) holders, that allowed them to work in Britain for up to two years.
The report said part of the reason for the surge in Hong Kong students could be the graduation of a "double cohort" after the first Diploma of Secondary Education exams in 2012.
In that year, some students sat the new exam after three years of secondary school while some sat A levels after four. Because of that, there was "an excess supply of some 10,000 students", the report said.
The Education Bureau said Hong Kong students' experiences while studying abroad would add to the city's "highly diversified talent pool".
The report also showed a jump in the number of students from mainland China taking postgraduate courses in England. Such students numbered 8,300 in 2012-2013, up 44 per cent from 2010-2011.
That contrasted with a 51 per cent fall in the number of Indian postgraduate students.