For Hong Kong students looking to further their education abroad, Australia offersa combination of quality institutions providing numerous programmes at varying academic levels. With the Australian dollar in the doldrums, obtaining a degree from a university is more affordable than ever. Goh Yeun Yeun, senior administrative officer in Hong Kong for International Development Programme Education Australia, said the courses were well recognised by employers. 'Australian universities offer a lot of courses that are recognised by the Hong Kong Government, so it is conducive to getting a job back here. This can be an important advantage, especially when times are tough,' she said. 'All the institutions in Australia have to be registered with the Australian Government, so there is a high level of quality control. During this economic crisis, students have to look for value for money. With the Australian dollar quite weak against the Hong Kong dollar, studying in Australia represents good value compared to the US, Britain or Canada. The costs of living and tuition compare well.' Ms Goh said many stu dents applied to overseas institutions on the basis of perceived prestige or name, unaware that competition for entry to these institutions was fierce. 'A more effective way to decide on a study destination is, rather than evaluating an institution's reputation, to clearly identify a proposed course of study,' she said. 'Once students know exactly what field they want to undertake, they can easily determine which institution offers the programme that is best suited to their academic needs and career goals.' According to Ms Goh, more than 150,000 overseas students took advantage of Australia's educational opportunities last year. The education system spans the learning spectrum, from top-notch universities to vocational education and training, private colleges, primary and secondary education. At all levels, Australia has developed a reputation for its range of courses and study opportunities, with well-structured support programmes, excellent facilities and supervision from qualified staff. Ms Goh said Australian institutions were second to none when it came to tailoring education to meet the needs of the working world. 'Revision of university and vocational education and training courses in collaboration with relevant industry bodies is an ongoing process to ensure the most up-to-date training is provided. This explains why graduates with Australian qualifications are sought after by employers around the world,' she said. Another boon for students is that they are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week during course time and full- time during vacations. 'Many international students find being permitted to work part-time in Australia helps them in many ways. Apart from providing extra money to help with their expenses, it gives them the opportunity to gain experience and skills useful for their future career back home. And it is an ideal way to get to know the 'real' Australia and its people.' Ms Goh said Hong Kong A-level students who held at least two passes at grade D or above may be eligible to enter a university direct, depending on the desired course and institution. But those who were not eligible for direct entry should not despair. Those interested in business, computing, communications and engineering degrees could enrol in one or two-year college diploma courses which led directly into the second year of the relevant university courses. A third option was the Universities Foundation Programme, which ranged from six months to a year, designed to prepare students for entry into year one of their chosen degree upon completion. This option could be particularly useful for students wishing to pursue courses such as medicine, architecture, dentistry and pharmacy, which had rigorous entry requirements. The International Development Programme is a body established by the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee to support the overseas educational efforts of Australian institutions. It provides valuable advice for students considering furthering their education in Australia. 'Our office in Hong Kong has an extensive research library, so students can check out the handbooks of lots of institutions to decide where to study and what suits them best,' Ms Goh said. 'Australia really is a great option. The climate is wonderful, the institutions world- class and most cities are eight hours flying time or less from Hong Kong, with only a two- hour time difference. It is the second most popular destination for Hong Kong students after the US, and the number of students choosing Australia is increasing all the time.' Institutions provide support for overseas students, from accommodation arrangements to counselling. Ansett Australia currently offers flights for around $4,500 one-way and allows students 30 kilograms excess baggage on top of the usual 20kg. Banks have representatives here to provide advice and help students open accounts before they leave for Australia. Students also receive subsidised medical cover. 'Generally, Hong Kong students fit very well into Australia,' she said. 'They make up a big proportion of the high achievers in Australian universities. 'A lot of courses are tailored towards people who will be working in Asia, and many of the academics are well-versed in the Asia-Pacific region.'