Hong Kong's first academy of visual arts has received hundreds of applications from students - despite the very low numbers taking the subject at A-level. The $30 million academy being set up by Baptist University is due to open in September in the former Royal Air Force Officers' Mess in Kowloon Bay. Two thirds of the cash is being spent converting the historic building into state-of-the-art studios. It will offer a BA (Hons) programme in visual arts that combines studio arts with art history and cultural studies, plus hi-tech professional training in creative exhibit design, photo-imaging, digital media design or synthetic worlds. The degree is believed to be the only one in Hong Kong to combine studio arts with theoretical and historical studies and one of a handful of any sort to involve painting, drawing and sculpture. Chinese painting will also be a mandatory course and students will be taught to integrate Chinese and Western ideas to present a blend of both in their work. Art has been one of the least popular subjects at A-level and just 133 of the 36,000 candidates who sat the exams last year took the subject, compared with more than 11,000 each sitting chemistry and physics. Yet the programme has received 440 applications from Band A students through the Joint University Programmes Admissions System plus 130 other applications for its 40 places. Professor Herbert Tsang Hin-pok, HKBU's academic vice-president, said the university set up the academy because current degree programmes in the visual arts could not match the rapid development of creative industries. Professor Chung Ling, dean of the faculty of arts, said it would open a new channel for pursuing higher study in art that also prepared students for a career. 'The government has been saying that Hong Kong should become the hub of cultural and creative industries for the Pearl River Delta,' she said. 'This new academy will fill a major gap in visual arts education in Hong Kong and help achieve the territory's ambition.'