Hong Kong Polytechnic University's (PolyU) scholarship presentation ceremony last month centred around mainland students. PolyU president Poon Chung-kwong delivered his speech praising the outstanding academic performance of the scholarship recipients in Putonghua. Of the 94 grants awarded, 66 went to mainland students. Standing alongside the legions of mainlanders, the 21 local students looked pushed to the sidelines. PolyU received more than 9,000 applications from mainland students this year, a three-fold increase on last year's figure. Among the many disciplines, finance, accounting and commerce proved to be the most popular choices. 'About 3,750 students applied for our commerce and finance programme this year. Most of them believe Hong Kong to be an international financial centre which offers them many opportunities,' said Judy Tsui, dean of the faculty of business. All scholarship winners are have excellent academic results, and Professor Tsui says the high quality of mainland graduates provides a much needed boost to the Hong Kong economy. 'Three out of 10 of my mainland students have scholarships. They are hardworking and can often be found doing revision in the library after school. Some of them came from remote mainland provinces. Their humble origins mean they treasure their learning opportunities,' she said. 'In contrast, Hong Kong students who are used to a rather affluent existence are less motivated.' Huang Linyuan, a PolyU logistics student and scholarship recipient, is grateful for the opportunity to study in Hong Kong. 'I'm really happy that I can study here. Hong Kong is a free city with a superb education system,' she said. 'As the lessons are conducted in English, it's also a good chance for me to improve my language capabilities.' To attract top mainland students, local universities have offered scholarships worth HK$400,000 to HK$500,000 per student. The drive to lure top-notch mainland students has drawn the ire of the mainland media, which has accused local universities of snatching away their talents. Journalists in Beijing and Web users have gone so far as to say that offering such extravagant scholarships has relegated prestigious mainland colleges, such as Tsinghua University and Peking University, to second-class institutions. However, local educators see the move as standard practice. 'Everyone has to meet our requirements if they want to study in our school. We will give equal chance to anyone who's worth nurturing,' said Professor Poon. When asked whether the rise in the number of mainland students would dim the prospects of local graduates, Professor Poon said there were safeguards in place. 'The government has decreed that the annual intake of foreign students cannot exceed one-tenth of all entrants,' he said. 'We admitted 14,500 students this year and only 237 of them came from the mainland. To promote cultural exchange, the government should increase the ceiling on the mainland student intake so that Hong Kong students can have more chance to interact with mainlanders.'