Britain is the number one destination for Hong Kong postgraduates by a long chalk. True, the number of Hong Kong students studying for postgraduate degrees in Britain has fallen by a quarter over the past decade. But that is most likely to do with the rapid expansion of British courses now being offered in the city. In fact 2,530 Hong Kong postgraduates studied in Britain last year compared with 1,550 in the United States, making Britain the top place to study. 'The main benefits are access to well-recognised universities with world-class standards of quality assurance, that offer a vast range of courses in a vast range of settings, and relatively safe environments,' said Katherine Forestier, the British Council's director of education in Hong Kong. 'Studying in Britain will give them the chance to improve their English and gain a more global perspective - really valued by employers - and upgrade their skills.' Few countries can match Britain's academic standing in the world, and Britain offers one very significant advantage over its rival across the Atlantic: master's courses are achieved in one year instead of two, unlike many US universities, which means having to pay only one year's tuition and living costs, a critical saving. 'While in Britain they can gain work experience, which may be part of their course, or they can work part time and in the holidays to support their studies,' said Ms Forestier. 'Either way, they will enhance their skills.' Four British universities remain in the world top ten, according to The Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings - Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London and University College London - while 17 made it into the top 100 this year and 29 into the top 200. Ann Mroz, editor of The Times Higher Education supplement, said: 'UK universities are very clearly among the world's best and have maintained good rankings this year.' The most popular courses by far among Hong Kong postgraduates are education, medicine and dentistry, and business and administration. There has been a sharp rise in those taking up health-related courses in recent years. Law is also sought after. But it is not just the quality of courses that makes Britain the favourite destination, but the ties with Hong Kong, the mixture of historic and vibrant locations, and the easy access to cultural riches of Europe, many of which are reachable in couple of hours by train or plane. For many, London is an obvious attraction. Not for nothing did Samuel Johnson claim you could find 'no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life'. But it would be a mistake to overlook the very different experiences you could have elsewhere in Britain. A world away from the metropolis there are the historic university cities of Oxford and Cambridge, with their ancient spires and quadrangles built up to 800 years ago; Edinburgh dominated by its castle stronghold and loved for its annual theatre festival; and Bath, where Jane Austen set two of her novels, with its Roman spa baths, graceful Georgian terraces and famous Royal Crescent. Most Hong Kong postgraduate students are congregated in a surprisingly small number of universities. According to 2006/7 figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Cardiff and Bristol universities account for more than 500 between them, followed by Warwick (190), Leicester (115), Northumbria (85), Nottingham (85), Birmingham (80), Cambridge (80) and Oxford (75). Cardiff is sought after particularly for medicine and dentistry, architecture, and building and planning; Bristol for education and social studies; Warwick for business and engineering and technology; Leicester for education; and Northumbria for law and business and administrative studies. When choosing an institution it is important to check out the pastoral care and support they provide. International students are big business in Britain, making up 9 per cent of the student population - 48,500 of them from China - and bringing in on average 8 per cent of universities' income. Fourteen universities have more than 5,000 foreign students. Many have international departments and a growing inclination to provide language catch-up classes. But the range of support they offer might very from a one-day induction to all year round guidance on Britain's learning styles and language improvement lessons. One thing to watch out for in future years: the advantage the one year master's courses holds for Britain in the international market - particularly given the popularity of master's in business studies - is coming under increasing scrutiny in Europe, where a two-year master's is considered better preparation for PhD study. According to James Cemmell and Bahram Bekhradnia of the Higher Education Policy Unit, a think tank: 'There are undoubtedly some that are trying to undermine the credibility of [the UK's] one-year course.' Lastly, note that Britain has been chastened by the credit crunch and ensuing government bailout of the banks but this is good news for Hong Kong students. 'Now is a really good time to study in the UK,' Ms Forestier said. 'Given the recent currency movements, the cost for the Hong Kong student has fallen by as much as 20 per cent since July, making it much more affordable.'