Hong Kong students' interest in British education has not wavered despite the economic downturn, according to a senior official of the British Council. Jenny Scott, assistant director for education promotion at the British Council, said factors such as the stability of the Hong Kong dollar and the strong fundamentals of the local economy enabled families and students to afford overseas education. 'Hong Kong people also attach high priority to quality education, especially English-medium education. We have strong reasons to believe that the long-term prospect for British education and training providers here is good,' she said. Ms Scott said there had been a slight decrease in the overall number of Hong Kong people studying overseas during recent years. However, she did not believe this was sparked by regional economic problems. She said the increase in joint programmes between Britain and Hong Kong, overseas distance learning programmes and local provisions had provided more opportunities and choices for people to stay in Hong Kong for higher education. According to the latest figures released by the British Council, 8,000 students from Hong Kong studied in Britain in the 1996-97 academic year. More than 45 per cent of them in higher education institutions were in postgraduate studies. Business and managerial studies, engineering and education were the most popular postgraduate subjects. 'British institutions like to recruit Hong Kong students as they are exchange-committed, hard working and can help upgrade their international research,' Ms Scott said. The British Council's own Distance Learning Centre has undergone rapid expansion since its establishment in 1995. The number of courses has increased from 18 to more than 40, with the majority postgraduate studies. Ms Scott predicted both postgraduate and distance learning courses would be the highest growth areas in Hong Kong. The British Postgraduate and Distance Learning Fair, organised by the British Council at the weekend, attracted more than 6,000 visitors. It involved 35 British universities, 23 of which offered courses by distance learning.