There is no single route to higher education. Dennis Tsang Kwong-wing suffered setbacks at the local public examinations, but thanks to the Alistair Harvey Foundation Scholarship, offered through the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, he was able to fulfil his dream of studying for a bachelor's degree in biotechnology. Having graduated with first-class honours, Mr Tsang begins a master's degree in September. What were you doing before you won a scholarship to study biotechnology at the University of Ulster? I was studying the last year of a higher diploma programme in biotechnology at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education. I was working on my final-year project on fungal research, while applying for bachelor's degree programmes at Hong Kong universities. You have received an offer to study an MPhil in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at Queen's University in Belfast and an unconditional offer to study a Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Sciences (Cancer and Ageing) at the University of Ulster. Did you always know you had the ability to go so far in your education? To study biotechnology in a tertiary institute in Hong Kong, I knew I had to be persistent. I faced barriers. I consider myself a mature person, having faced the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (HKALE) twice, and I gained a lot of advanced scientific knowledge and techniques at IVE. A tutor at IVE arranged for me to work at the University of Hong Kong for three months on a summer placement. I undertook fungal research, under supervision. I was awarded a first-class honours classification for my bachelor's degree in biotechnology at the University of Ulster. I am confident I have the ability to study for my chosen PhD course directly, without studying a master's degree. I have a lot of practice and I am diligent and serious-minded. And I have a dream to pursue. Did you always want to follow a career in cancer research? This has been my goal since secondary school. I am confident that many genetic diseases, and even cancer, will be cured one day by gene therapy or stem cell technologies. Because all of these disorders are just changes in genetic materials, they are theoretically curable by switching on or off some genes. My final-year project for my bachelor's degree was to investigate the manipulation of a potential cancer gene, and this is the path I will follow in my postgraduate research and career. But I know that there is still a long way to go. What is your experience of study outside Hong Kong? I have learnt much about scientific research. It is difficult to get results in one stroke. You have to keep facing and solving problems. I found that the curriculum was not too difficult for IVE students, and that it is basically an advanced level of the IVE curriculum. In fact, the professors are glad to recruit us [ex-IVE students] to do scientific research. They know we have good practical skills and knowledge. We have been recognised for our academic knowledge and practical performance. The study life here is enjoyable. My university is in a rural area, far from the city. The life here is simple and comfortable, though a bit boring! I think I have become more independent, and my thoughts and vision have broadened. What obstacles did you face in pursuing your dream? The limited offers from local universities. HKALE is not an easy path to progress to universities in Hong Kong. The competition is really tough. Form Seven students have to compete for places with associate degree and higher diploma students. I took the HKALE twice and still did not get an offer in the area I was interested in, although I studied very hard. The limitation of scientific funding is another obstacle. Hong Kong is a financial centre, and the city also depends much on tourism. Scientific research is not a popular business in Hong Kong. Also, research institutes/firms are usually product-orientated. Scientific funding is limited in Hong Kong. Although I am now studying in a western country, the situation has improved only a bit. Scientific funding, scholarships or financial assistance are limited to European Union students. There is less funding that overseas students can apply for. What is your advice to those who are unable to follow the mainstream route to higher education? My advice is: pursue your dreams and study what you are interested in, and prepare well to achieve your goals.