More and more local school leavers are playing the China card. While overseas universities - especially in English-speaking countries - continue to attract the largest number of Hong Kong students pursuing studies away from home, an increasing number are recognising the many advantages of studying in the mainland. 'First, there is the financial factor,' says Yolanda Lam Yu, an event manager at Key Media International, organiser of Ed-Ex 2003, an educational expo to be held next weekend at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. 'They do not have to worry about any financial burdens as the school fees and travel expenses are much lower than studying abroad.' A second factor is choice. 'Hong Kong has only a few good universities from which to choose, while there are many more choices in the mainland,' Ms Lam says. Other attractions include the chance to improve one's Putonghua and accessing the mainland job market. 'We see a new trend, with more mainland universities recruiting Hong Kong students,' Ms Lam says. The following universities, she says, have all expressed interest in attracting local students: Zhongshan University in Guangzhou; Renmin University, Beijing; Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing; Jilin University in Changchun; Tianjin University of Science and Technology; Wuhan University, and the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing. In response to the growing interest in career development and study opportunities in China, the Asian Institute of Higher Education (AIHE) O/B Halman is launching its first online programmes in conjunction with a mainland university. (The AIHE has been offering distance-learning courses in collaboration with Australian and British universities since 1982.) Classes commence in September. The institute is one of 76 exhibitors taking part in Ed-Ex 2003. 'Renmin University was the first mainland university to offer online programmes to students in China,' says Patrick Wan Fa-fai, customer service manager, AIHE. 'We want to bring that service to Hong Kong.' Programmes will range from certificates to diplomas to bachelor degrees, and they will be offered on a credit accumulation basis. There will be nine concentrations, ranging from finance and marketing and other business subjects to law and Chinese literature. Materials will be available online or through CD-Roms. There will be videos of lectures, texts, chat lines, and bulletin boards. 'I think the degree and bachelor programmes will be popular with Form Five and Form Seven school leavers and adults looking for business opportunities and career development in the mainland,' Mr Wan says. In its second year, Ed-Ex is expected to attract 30,000 to 40,000 visitors. Created around the theme of lifelong learning, the expo will cover all aspects of education, training, learning, and professional development. All levels, from kindergarten to higher education to corporate training, will be covered. In addition to 87 booths, there will be dozens of workshops and seminars covering diverse topics ranging from academic opportunities at home and abroad to professional training in beauty care, hair-styling, and makeup. 'We see more and more young adults interested in professional training,' Ms Lam says. 'Teenagers looking for educational opportunities, youths interested in further professional development, adults hoping to broaden their knowledge base, and parents wishing to send their children to good schools will all benefit from the event.' Professionals in counselling, human resources, and corporate training will have a chance to network and learn about development and training opportunities for their staff. Ed-Ex is free and open to the public, and runs from Friday to Sunday. 'We see more and more young adults interested in professional training'