Each year hundreds of Hong Kong students are introduced to life at Australian educational institutions through scholarships and study tours offered and organised by the non-profit Australia Education Association (AEA). A typical study tour gives Hong Kong students a two- to four-week glimpse of the Australian way of life while discovering universities in the country. Chairman Wilson Chang Aih-hau says AEA represents several Australian educational institutions. Applications, including administration fees for services such as couriers and bank drafts, are free of charge to students. 'We help students to enrol and we provide a scholarship programme for our study tours to encourage students to visit,' Mr Chang says. 'We provide consultation and brochures, and we can guide them through the student visa application over the Internet.' AEA began operations from Perth in Western Australia as a service offering study tours to Singapore and Thailand for locally based international students. Mr Chang brought the operation to Hong Kong about two years ago. 'Studying in Australia is very popular right now because of the high standard of living in the country and the favourable currency exchange rate. It attracts a lot of students who might otherwise go to Britain, the United States or other places,' Mr Chang says. Last year AEA helped about 300 students sign up for courses in Australia. 'Most are undergraduates from Form Five to Form Seven, typically aged 16 to 19.' Mr Chang says the Education and Careers Expo is a good opportunity to spread word of Australian education among Hong Kong students. 'We want to promote our organisation. The timing of the expo is too early to recruit students, so we just use the event to let students know that our association exists, and what it can offer them,' he says. 'Students want to see the results of their Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination [HKCEE] and Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination [HKALE] before they focus on looking for a university, because the results let them know whether they can further their studies in Hong Kong, for example.' Results are available mid-year. Students who enrol at an Australian university begin studies in February the following year, after a preparation course at an associated institution. These courses typically offer language training and orientation to tertiary education. AEA, which has offices in Tsim Sha Tsui, will have a booth at the expo where interested students and parents can pick up AEA study guides, brochures and other information about Australian courses. 'People can learn the pathway to studying at an Australian institution,' Mr Chang says. The AEA study guide describes life in an Australian study course and important aspects of life in the country, including the all-important cost of living. 'Some students like to go to a big city but don't know where to study. We give them a brief consultation about the benefits of various cities and universities.' AEA uses consultants who have graduated from Australian universities to pass on their experience to prospective Australian students. AEA gives away many of its services to Hong Kong students, but generates cash surpluses from time to time. There are fees involved in its study tours, and it receives funding directly from some of the Australian institutions to which it sends students. 'With a few of the institutions with whom we have a very good relationship, sometimes we ask for funding if, for example, we need to offer more scholarships to attract more students,' Mr Chang says. A typical scholarship would cover part of a student's expenses for a course or study tour. Some are dependent on previous or future academic results. Mr Chang says most students return more than satisfied with their Australian study experience. 'They are happy because the environment and living standards are very good. And, of course, the schools are also good.' Many students take to Australia during their study period and apply for permanent residence after graduating.