More than 14,000 students from Hong Kong chose to study in Australia last year, about 4,000 of them of school age. The country has been a popular destination for HKCEE graduates, not just because of its location as the closest English speaking nation, but also because of the range of programmes and educational institutions it offers overseas students. 'The learning style in Australia is innovative, and we offer a number of programmes that are not available in Hong Kong,' said Heidi Fung from the education section of the Australian consulate in Hong Kong. Form Five graduates from Hong Kong have a choice of three pathways that they can follow in order to study in Australia. The first is to continue their final two years of study (Year 11 and Year 12) in the regular school system there. All Form Five graduates are eligible to apply to either state or private schools, with different schools having different requirements for admission. 'Some schools may ask for prospective students to take the Australian Education Assessment Services [AEAS] test, and others may ask for proof of a certain level of English,' Ms Fung said. The AEAS includes an assessment of English and maths skills. Other schools may be happy with grades that a prospective student got for their HKCEE. Schools in Australia usually focus their curriculum on eight key learning areas, but other programmes such as the International Baccalaureate are also available. Fees vary from around A$13,000 (HK$82,737) to A$20,000 per year, and of course housing and living costs must also be taken into account if the school does not provide accommodation themselves. Many schools that take overseas students will be able to arrange homestay for their students, where the student lives with a local family during their studies. Aside from traditional schools, a popular option for overseas students is to embark on a programme of vocational training. Courses are available through the public and private sector. Popular programmes for Hong Kong students include hospitality and tourism, beauty therapy, childcare, mechanics, construction and engineering. 'We have a lack of some of these essential skills in Australia so it is easy for graduates of these types of courses to find jobs here,' Ms Fung said. Form Five students usually take a Certificate Four course which takes one year to complete. These courses usually lead to a one- or two-year diploma or advanced diploma course. Credits earned from these can ensure admission to courses at some universities for students. Fees for vocational courses start at around A$4,500 and rise to A$12,000, depending on the course. Most secondary students from Hong Kong who go to Australia to study do so with the aim of eventually gaining a place at an Australian university, and the third pathway into the country, is through applying for a foundation studies course. 'These courses are designed for overseas students to get into an Australian university,' Ms Fung said. 'If Form Five or Form Seven students don't have the right grades to get directly into a university, then the one-year foundation course is a good way to go.' An English language course is a compulsory part of the programme and students can go to university if their results are good enough. Many of the colleges that offer foundation courses have agreements with local universities, so that once a student has passed the course they stand a good chance of gaining a place at these linked universities. Ms Fung explained that a good rule of thumb was to assume that accommodation and living expenses for an overseas student are around A$360 per week. The most popular areas in the country for overseas students are Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland. 'In the Australian system, schools usually start in January and end in December, so we advise students to start applying at least three months ahead,' Ms Fung said. Australia is the only country that protects the rights of overseas students through legislation. The Education Services for Overseas Students Act specifies the roles and responsibilities of institutions and the quality of service they must provide for overseas students. With this legislation, students who may not receive the standard of education they expect from an institution can be moved to another place or even get a refund of their fees.