Free gifts and discounts are being offered to students who sign up for subdegree programmes as colleges prepare for the annual scramble to recruit candidates denied a university place. Fewer than half of all Form Seven school-leavers will win undergraduate places when the results of the central admissions system are announced on July 31 - leaving thousands of students searching for alternatives. But critics say the number of subdegree places is expected to far exceed demand from students, and some community colleges could have difficulty filling their programmes this year. Hong Kong Community College in Hung Hom is offering a free 512-megabyte portable Memory Stick to all students who register for its associate degree programmes. Those who paid the first fees by Friday also got a free English-language course valued at HK$2,100. Promotional materials issued by the college, which is part of Polytechnic University, also promise 'substantial savings' on personal computers and personal digital assistants offered at campus exhibitions for freshmen over the next two months. Meanwhile, Hong Kong College of Technology is to issue a 'knowledge-added card' for HK$50 that gives a 10 per cent discount on tuition fees for diploma courses in creative industries, including multimedia production, fashion design and interior design. Card holders would also be entitled to a waiver of the HK$150 application fee for programmes offered jointly with overseas or mainland universities. A Polytechnic University spokeswoman said the community college's free offers were part of a 'forest of measures' to offer help and support to students entering a challenging new phase in their life. 'Specifically, the measures offer students help in choosing the right programme and college, in improving learning effectiveness and English proficiency, and in easing financial difficulties,' she said. 'Of course, they are also meant to encourage students to join [the college].' However, some have criticised the colleges' offers. Fung Wai-wah, convenor of the Alliance for Concern about Subdegree Education, said: 'This sort of commercialisation of the associate degree admissions process is a worrying trend. It will get the students to focus on this type of free gift instead of the quality of programmes or the articulation of the programme to undergraduate study.' Ronald Chan Kam-wan, executive director of the Hong Kong Youth and Tertiary Students Association, said: 'This is not an appropriate way of attracting students. There are too many associate degree programmes being offered and this is encouraging the community colleges to adopt commercialised recruitment methods.'