With growing numbers of Hong Kong students looking north of the border for their tertiary education, mainland universities are learning about the power of marketing. That's what two busloads of parents, teachers and students from secondary schools across Hong Kong discovered when they took a guided tour of Sun Yat-sen University's Guangzhou campuses last Saturday. The group was taken on a one-day tour of the three campuses in and around the city - the historic, spacious south campus, the medical school in the north, plus a look at the partially completed east one, near the city's outer ring road. There is a fourth campus in Zhuhai. Securing a place in respectable mainland universities was not normally a problem for Hong Kong students, said Kenneth Law Wing-cheung, principal of Heung To College of Professional Studies, which organises Sun Yat-sen's direct entrance examinations in Hong Kong. 'Hong Kong students generally perform very well in the English and Chinese sections, and they pick up a lot of marks there,' Mr Law said. 'They tend not to be as strong in mathematics as mainland students, but they can make that up in the other sections.' Bian Yu, head of the university's admissions department, said the university had a small but growing number of Hong Kong students in its undergraduate programmes. 'At present we have a little over 500 students from Hong Kong and Macau - about half of whom come from Hong Kong,' Mr Bian said. The university has a total of about 22,000 undergraduate students, plus 11,000 postgraduates. 'That's not as many as some other universities, as we have tended to focus on admissions from within Mainland China, but it is increasing.' A spokesman for the Education and Manpower Bureau said there were no statistics for the number of local students studying either in the mainland or overseas as the department did not require them to register before leaving Hong Kong. But the EMB had identified a growing trend. 'Exchanges between Hong Kong and the mainland are on the increase,' the spokesman said. 'On the education front, we have made changes to facilitate exchanges in both directions.' One of the most important developments had been the signing of a memorandum of agreement between Secretary for Education and Manpower, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, and his counterpart in Beijing, Minister of Education Zhou Ji last July. But the recognition was not yet all encompassing. The Medical Council of Hong Kong currently did not recognise medical qualifications awarded by any mainland institutions. 'Overseas medical graduates - including those trained in the mainland - who wish to apply for registration with the [Medical] Council are required to sit and pass all three parts of the Council's Licensing Examination, and thereafter undergo 12 months' assessment in approved hospitals in Hong Kong as an intern,' said a spokeswoman for the council's Licentiate Committee. Since 1996, the pass rates for mainland-trained candidates had fluctuated within roughly the same range as those from other countries, from just under 20 per cent to more than 40 per cent, she added. Jonathan Ho Choi-kwong, a biology teacher and career master at Church of Christ of China Hoh Fuk Tong Secondary School in Tuen Mun, said he would consider advising students to apply for university places in mainland China, but it would depend on individual students' circumstances. 'Every case is different, and you need to look at the different needs of each student,' he said. 'That has to do with their academic abilities but also their economic situation. For students with good grades, I think it would be best for them to study in Hong Kong. Pupils from more affluent family backgrounds might want to consider studying overseas. But students who could not get into a good local university, or whose economic situation is slightly less comfortable, then studying in the mainland is probably a good option.' Mavis Ma, a Form Seven student at Chiu Lut Sau Memorial Secondary School in Yuen Long, said the tour had opened her eyes to university options north of the border. 'I would consider studying there,' she said. 'But I haven't checked how the level of instruction compares with Hong Kong universities.' Mr Bian said the university - considered the largest and best in the city - hoped the visit would attract a greater number of applications from Hong Kong students. 'We are hoping to give the parents and teachers a better understanding of the university and the work we are doing here,' he said. The new east campus, still in its first phase, left a strong impression on many students, although some tour members said facilities were not up to the same level as they might expect in Hong Kong. 'I didn't like the way there was no air-conditioning in the canteens or the dormitories,' said Ms Ma.