THE QUEUE WAS ALREADY four rows deep and as the clock struck 1pm, more than 100 people surged forwards. Students with parents, with friends, with an older sibling or even the whole family in tow pressed into the Education UK Enrolment Interviews in Wan Chai. The event is one of only two globally for school leavers with A-levels where large numbers of universities offer places in degree courses to students on the spot. The other is in Kuala Lumpur. Crowds were soon five or six deep for Warwick, Nottingham, Manchester and Loughborough. Edmund Lam Yue-shek, 18, worked his way into the Loughborough throng and was soon presenting his Hong Kong A-level results - Ds in chemistry, physics and pure maths - to an adviser. He asked about an engineering foundation programme - one year of preparatory study leading to a degree - but also whether he would qualify for direct entry to an engineering degree. 'We are not sure,' the man said. 'It's close. We will have to get some details. We can try to get a reply either tomorrow or Monday to see whether they will accept this.' Admissions staff at the British Council event have discretion to make offers to students within fixed rules - at Loughborough they are allowed to drop one grade point in one subject, but the decision is sometimes referred to academics back at the university. Edmund retreats for a debriefing with his father. Lam Sing-chung, a buildings engineer, said: 'It's a bit like going to a shopping mall ... but by Tuesday, he should have three options.' Edmund already had an offer of a place on a chemical engineering degree - his preferred subject - at Sheffield University from a stand in the next aisle. And the teenager had arrived with an offer already under his belt from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology to study electronic engineering with information technology. 'He will either be able to go to HKUST or there is likely to be a place at one the top 10 universities on a foundation course and the third option would be to go straight into a second-tier university like Sheffield,' he said. 'I would like him to study at one of the top 10 universities and I don't mind him spending one more year. It is a bit more expensive but it is worth it to come out with a degree from a globally well-recognised university.' Edmund said: 'I am really pleased that I have got two more options. But it will be quite hard deciding between studying at HKUST and a British university.' In Chinese families the aspiration for university entry rather than into some other form of training or career path is more widespread than among Westerners. Add to this the fact that every year about half the Form Seven students who apply to Hong Kong's universities are rejected - this year it is 15,231 or 47.8 per cent of the total. Then there is the one third of qualified Form Six candidates who are rejected from A-level entry to Hong Kong schools. An increasing share of those take associate degrees in the hope of transferring to a degree programme later. It all adds up to a huge demand for higher education which draws university recruiters from around the world - an Australian education festival was also going on nearby and an American one is held in the autumn, among others. But when it comes to being offered a university place on the spot, students need to keep a pretty cool head, according to Winnie Eley, the British Council's director of education services. They should come well-prepared, having used the internet and taken advantage of consultations with British Council advisers from June to August. 'And don't rush into any decision because the institutions have to give a minimum of 48 hours for students to decide whether they would like to accept,' she warned. Academics at the event were impressed by the sophistication of the students. Christine Ennew, in the Nottingham University team, said: 'My impression was that the students were very savvy. They had done their homework. They knew which were the good institutions and where to target themselves according to their grades.' Some students went to confirm an offer made through Ucas - the British university admission system - and others who had already completed one year at university were searching for a second-year place at a more prestigious university, although admissions staff said their chances were slim. About 11,000 people visited this year's event to search for places at more than 50 British universities that were still available through 'clearing' when students who have not gained the grades to qualify for their chosen university are matched up with the programmes that remain unfilled. Elsewhere, much of the leg-work is done on the internet and the telephone but the Wan Chai event all takes place in one hall. There is even a stand where students who already have an offer through UCAS can have it released so that they can accept a fresh offer from another university - as the clearing rules require. By the end of the weekend, Nottingham had made 13 offers, Manchester had made 10 and Loughborough was expecting to make offers to 10 students. The new universities, which have a more vocational slant and lower entry requirements, took more. Middlesex University made 31 firm offers and is holding a number of applications pending verification of exam results. So what of Edmund? By Tuesday evening, the matter has been decided and he has flown off to Shanghai for a break. Mr Lam said: 'We lost contact with Loughborough. They never called back ... and we came to the conclusion that HKUST is just as good as the firm offers we have had from the UK. The chance of going to Nottingham is only 30 to 35 per cent and if the contest is between HKUST and Sheffield, and after graduation he can go overseas for a master's, ultimately the degree is the same.'