HONG KONG STUDENTS should consider taking their higher education on the mainland if they want to capitalise on the excellent career opportunities created by increasing cross border ties. According to education experts and counsellors taking part in the Education & Careers Expo 2007, there was an increasing demand for Hong Kong talent familiar with the mainland environment, but despite this, the number of local students at mainland universities remained low because of a general inertia among parents and young people. One of the speakers at the expo, Edmund Kwok Siu-tong, executive vice-president of United International College in Zhuhai, said: 'Hong Kong's young people should try to equip themselves with first-hand knowledge and experience of China if they don't want to lose out to mainland graduates, whose quality is rising very quickly. 'They have to actually live and look after themselves on the mainland to get a real understanding of the environment there, and build up contacts, which is very important for their future careers.' Professor Kwok, who is also chair professor of Baptist University's Social Faculty, will speak at a forum on mainland study prospects on the expo's Chinese Mainland Study Day today. The United International College is an international university, set up jointly by Baptist University and Beijing Normal University in 2005, as one of two pilot projects backed by the Chinese government. It adopts a Hong Kong style of teaching and admits both mainland and overseas students. Professor Kwok warned that Hong Kong's competitiveness might be undermined if there was a continued short supply of China-conversant talent. 'There is already a shortage of such talent to meet the growing demand of companies operating on the mainland, especially in the case of the professional services. It will add to the threat of Hong Kong becoming marginalised if we cannot bridge this shortfall quickly, because we are competing with other Chinese cities.' While no official figures on Hong Kong people's attendance of mainland universities are available, statistics from the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority show that locals taking the Joint Entrance Examination for Universities in the mainland have increased steadily from 179 in 2000 to 518 in 2006. The number of successful candidates also increased from 53 to 271 during this period. Taking the Joint Entrance Examination is a requirement for local Form Six students who want to apply for first-degree studies at 159 mainland universities that accept students from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Forty of these institutions will be represented at this year's expo. According to Zhou Chonghua, division head for academic and training at the Beijing-Hong Kong Academic Exchange Centre, a Chinese government-backed academic agency, the Joint Entrance Examination for Universities, was the channel used by the majority of Hong Kong applicants for first-degree studies on the mainland. A few eligible universities run their own recruitment programmes for Form Six applicants, while 30 offer pre-university programmes that enable Form Five graduates to enter university after completing a one-year preparatory course. Beijing University, Tsinghua University and Fudan University also have a priority admission programme targeted at top-notch students. An experienced counsellor himself, Mr Zhou said first-degree students could specialise in a variety of subjects at mainland universities. He said students from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were charged the same tuition fees as mainland students - from 4,000 to 6,000 yuan a year. With on-campus accommodation provided, living costs were low. According to Chan Ping, general manager of the Asian Pacific Education Centre, another Chinese government-backed counselling agency, universities in Guangdong province, Shanghai and Beijing were most popular with Hong Kong students, and business, medicine and engineering were their favourite disciplines.