STUDY IN THE ANTIPODES has for some time been one answer to the terminally low number of higher education places available in Hong Kong. Australia and New Zealand offer excellent educational facilities and a wide choice of university courses. 'The Hong Kong A-Levels are the most difficult public exams leading to university,' said Jimmy Wong of the Hong Kong Overseas Study Centre, an education advisory service. Furthermore, 'when students finish their HKCEE [Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination] at the age of 17 it is very hard for them to continue with secondary school in Hong Kong because of the bottlenecks'. Even those who finished secondary school here must face the reality of the majority of students not being able to get into a local university, Mr Wong said. A popular time for Hong Kong students to head to Australia and New Zealand for further studies is after they completed their HKCEE. In Australia you could 'fast-track' into university with the help of international university foundation courses, Mr Wong said. However, these courses were not open to local students, so for Hong Kong children to integrate with society, the better alternative might be Year 11 and 12 in Australia, or Year 12 and 13 in New Zealand. Another significant point about study in Australasia was that secondary/tertiary education fees were far cheaper than they were in Britain, said Sing Wong, director of the Academic Link Overseas Studies Centre. Living expenses were also relatively cheap. Rick Lam, director of Education South Australia, said advantages of studying in Australia were the flexibility of the education system, the small class sizes and the wide variety of subject choices. 'They are not just focused on academic achievement,' he said. 'In Year 11, for example, students are required to do a 10-week placement in the community, which forms part of their school assessment.' The Hong Kong Overseas Study Centre helps students choose an Australian or New Zealand university based on course and cost factors. Some students may have to work part-time, and this was possible in Australia but not in New Zealand. On the other hand, school and university fees were cheaper in New Zealand. Catherine Lee of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise said the exchange rate and cost of living were lower in New Zealand than in Australia. Lifestyle needs must also be factored in. 'We talk to the students, give them reference books and ask them to think about where is best for them,' said Mr Wong of the Hong Kong Overseas Study Centre. 'If, for example, they want to live in a dynamic city with a large Chinese population, we wouldn't suggest Hobart but rather Auckland, Sydney or Melbourne.' Some parents and students want to be far from other Hong Kong students. 'In New Zealand there are not many Asian students, which forces students to speak English,' noted Mr Wong. Ms Lee said parents looking for a truly different environment considered New Zealand. 'The population is scattered, so the English-speaking environment is more prominent, and culturally students can adapt more easily.' New Zealand, like Australia, encouraged a complete education for a well-rounded individual. 'New Zealand secondary education trains the whole person,' Ms Lee said. 'There is more variety than Hong Kong, and students are encouraged to develop their interests and talents. Children also learn outside of the classroom. The environment enables this, as do the culture and outdoorsy character of the people.'