Local universities have announced plans to admit a small number of Form Six students in an attempt to speed up the planned switch from a three-year to four-year university education structure. They hope the move will also lure more outstanding students to pursue higher education in Hong Kong. But most have denied that the schemes are aimed at securing the best students. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) took the lead this week by releasing its plan to admit about 50 Form Six students next September. The University of Hong Kong (HKU), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), Lingnan University, City University, Polytechnic University and Baptist University subsequently said that they had similar plans. Richard Ho Man-wui, academic registrar of CUHK, said the move was aimed at retaining top students in Hong Kong. 'Many outstanding students want to study in the US after Form Six as the universities there do not require A-level results. We hope this group will consider studying in Hong Kong instead,' he said. Under the proposal, students will have to earn an increased number of credits over four years. Mr Ho said the move was also being made to show the Government that CUHK was ready for a four-year system. 'Now that nearly all universities are planning to admit Form Six students, I hope the Government can, as soon as possible, implement the new academic structure and increase funding correspondingly, as recommended by the Education Commission two years ago,' he said, adding that without extra funding from the Government, the scheme could only benefit a small number of students. HKUST said its plans were at a preliminary stage, but it recently collaborated with the Education Department in offering Form Six students the chance to attend lectures and tutorials online through a 'cyber-university' programme. It has also run a Saturday school in mathematics for gifted students in Form Four and above. Professor Pong Ting-chuen, associate dean of engineering at the university, said students who finished the courses would earn credits counting towards degree programmes at HKUST and some prestigious universities in the US. 'We would like to groom gifted students and encourage them to study at local universities,' he said. A number of non-credit-bearing science camps for senior secondary students have also been organised by the university faculty. Dr Chiang Yik-man, assistant professor of mathematics, said they hoped the camps would encourage students to see HKUST's possibilities as a first-choice alternative to HKU and CUHK. At Lingnan, associate vice-president Professor Joseph Barton Starr said admission of Form Six students would be on a limited scale. 'It's a pilot project which will give us the opportunity to look at how the four-year system works. But we are going to be very selective about whom to admit,' he said. The preliminary plan is to admit about 20 sixth-form students to Lingnan's associate degree programmes for a year before transferring them to degree programmes. Baptist University president Professor Ng Ching-fai said it was considering admitting more than 20 outstanding Form Six students in September. 'This only accounts for one or two per cent of our 1,300 first-year students,' he said. 'We are not competing for gifted students with other universities.' Secretary for Education and Manpower, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, told Education Post that she supported the idea of admitting Form Six students to universities but did not actively promote it. 'Our position is to encourage tertiary institutions to run programmes for outstanding students,' she said. 'Universities have complete autonomy over student admission. As long as they do not require extra funding, they do not have to seek government approval.' The places now on offer are attracting some outstanding students. Jolie Chow Mei-kwan, a Form Six student at St Paul's Convent School and president of the Hong Kong Outstanding Students' Association, said she might change her intention to study medicine in the US and stay in Hong Kong. Other talented students might also be tempted to stay, she suggested. 'Many of us naturally prefer to avoid A-levels and go to study in the US,' she said. 'But it would be an attractive option if local universities started admitting sixth-form students. Tuition fees are much cheaper here and it is better to study medicine in a local context.'