WITH the Christmas-New Year holidays over, many parents will be seeing their children off to boarding schools around the world. Many of them will be looking at furthering their studies at university. Most expatriates living in Hongkong have not had to carry the burden of school fees. They are usually part of a package where the employer, whether government or private enterprise, either pays all or a substantial portion. But what happens if your son or daughter decides to go to university. If your son or daughter intends to go to university in the United Kingdom do not expect any change from $500,000. That is the minimum for a three-year course. In Australia, where tertiary education is free for home students, you are expected to pay a Higher Education Contribution tax of about A$2,000 (about HK$10,400) a year for most courses. The tax can be deferred, for a 25 per cent penalty, until the students obtain their degrees and enter the workforce. Every post-secondary student in Canada has to pay tuition fees. For international students, these can vary widely, depending on the province, course taken and level of study. For home students, fees range from about C$4,000 (about HK$24,200) to C$10,000 per academic year, with foreign students paying up to 50 per cent more. Board, books and living costs have to be taken into account and these can swell the bill by another 50 per cent, whether a foreign or home student. According to the Institute of International Education, university fees and additional costs per year in the United States can vary from US$9,000 (HK$70,000) to US$16,000 for a state university such as the University of California and Los Angeles (UCLA) and from US$15,000 to US$25,000 for a private university such as Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Mrs Mary Mason, head of the educational fees planning department at Matheson PFC, said university can be expensive, especially in Britain where costs varied depending on the course. ''Subjects like history and languages can cost as much as GBP5,500 [about HK$65,000] a year, physics and engineering around GBP7,500 and GBP13,500 for clinical subjects, like medicine and dentistry. ''In addition you have to consider the cost of room, board and living expenses, which is normally in the region of GBP4,000 to GBP5,000 a year. ''Whether you have to pay tuition fees in the UK will depend on your status as either a home or overseas student. The final decision rests with individual academic institutions. ''They use the Education [Fees and Award] Regulations 1983 to decide a student's fee status. ''Some universities interpret the rules harshly while others are more lenient. If a US citizen residing abroad can show that the family has retained links with the UK they will be classed as home students.'' Mrs Mason said parents with residual incomes over GBP13,630 per annum were required to contribute to higher education costs and all grants were means tested. ''If parents' residual income is above GBP31,000 a year the students will not receive a basic rate grant of GBP2,255,'' she said. Mr Andrew Eden, who specialises in education for Connaught Financial Planning, said: ''Parents in Hongkong, educating children for a life outside the territory, need to plan for tertiary studies at overseas universities and colleges. ''At secondary level, the English Schools Foundation (ESF) and the various international schools provide world-class education to the two per cent of kids in Hongkong who will pursue their lives and careers overseas. ''Hongkong's universities and polytechnics also provide world-class tertiary education, but their mission is to provide their students for a life in Hongkong. ''The formal language of universities and polytechnics in Hongkong may be English, but the social language is Cantonese. ''For the student who does not have Cantonese language skills, university will be a narrow and lonely experience.'' He said the children of expatriates tended to go to university in their home countries. To ease the burden of university fees parents should consider a savings plan as soon as they have children. ''Obviously, the earlier you start the easier it will be on your pocket,'' Mr Eden said. Most financial planners in Hongkong offer a variety of packages with most of them attaining the same goals. Mr David Thomas, managing director of Thomas Spencer and Associates, said: ''There is no secret to planning school fees. At the end of the day it is down to trying to convince people of the wisdom of saving for the future, and that includes school fees or university fees. ''In Hongkong many expatriates enjoy a high level of disposable income, coupled with very low personal income tax. ''For a small outlay each month parents can save for such things as school and university fees with a savings plan which will give flexibility . . . allowing the saver to pull out without loss. ''You can also have a built-in facility which will allow for inflation and growth. There are a number of ways this can be done, such as an endowment insurance policy, unit trusts or even Hongkong Bank shares.''