When Li Xixi received a full scholarship from Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in 2003, she was one of a few dozen mainland students who came to the city to pursue higher education. 'My secondary school headmaster recommended me to PolyU through a partnership programme. I remember there were fewer than 30 students who received scholarships from PolyU [at the time],' said the 24-year-old Jiangsu native. But things have changed dramatically over the past few years. Starting from 2003, mainland students have been able to apply directly for a place in Hong Kong's tertiary institutions. This sparked an intense mainland talent-hunting race among the city's universities. PolyU has admitted a record 282 students from all parts of China for the 2007/2008 academic year. The University of Hong Kong (HKU) has recruited 246 mainland students, while the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has admitted 250 students from 25 provinces. Mainland students will account for 10 per cent of the total number of undergraduates next year. Moreover, many of the mainland students here are elite students. A few of them scored the highest marks in the national college entrance exams in their province. This year China's Tsinghua University, for the first time, has lower admission requirements than CUHK. Hong Kong provides many benefits for mainland students, including generous scholarships. Ninety-five mainland students recruited by PolyU this year are on full scholarships of HK$110,000 a year, including HK$70,000 for tuition fees and HK$40,000 for living costs. 'Without the scholarship I wouldn't have been able to come,' said Ms Li, who is studying for a master's degree at PolyU's management and marketing department. She said Hong Kong universities offer more opportunities than those on the mainland. 'There are many exchange programmes, internship schemes and extra-curricular activities which are not available on the mainland,' Ms Li said. 'For example, I went to Arizona State University on an exchange programme. I wouldn't have that chance if I stayed in China.' Some young people in Hong Kong are concerned about the influx of top talent from the mainland. Jessica Kei Yuen-man, 19, is worried that mainland students will take up university places reserved for local students. 'Competition certainly encourages improvement. Mainland students are hard-working, and they set a good example for Hong Kong students,' said Jessica, an A-Level candidate seeking a university place this year. 'But it might become harder for local students to get into university, which isn't fair. We are the tax payers and we should be entitled to tertiary education.' Other students think the presence of mainland students could hurt their job prospects. According to PolyU, 80 per cent of mainland graduates stayed in Hong Kong to look for work or to further their studies last year. Only 5 per cent returned home. But Ms Li says mainland students cannot compete with their Hong Kong counterparts, who enjoy many advantages. 'When I first came to PolyU, I had the misconception that Hong Kong students weren't serious and did not work hard,' she said. 'But they are actually very independent. Many of them have part-time jobs to cover their living costs. Mainland students mainly rely on their parents for financial support. 'Also, local students have stronger inter-personal skills. They work well together in group projects. Most mainland students are from single-child families. Some of them have poor communication skills and concentrate only on textbooks.'