Business people from around the world are flocking to study at Hong Kong's top business schools, and this year they have taken the majority of places on several full-time MBA programmes. While institutions in the United States struggle to fill their classrooms, the city's leading business schools are enjoying a boom in enrolments fuelled by a rising number of overseas applicants. Applications for Chinese University's (CUHK) full-time MBA courses rose 20 per cent this year, and 82 per cent of the 90 students admitted were from outside Hong Kong. Mainland students make up 34 per cent of the total, with 13 per cent coming from North America, 12 per cent from India, 12 per cent from other Asian countries, 9 per cent from Europe and 2 per cent from elsewhere. At the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), the proportion of non-local students in this year's intake of 115 students for its full-time MBA is even higher, at 93 per cent. Students in the programme, which was ranked third in the world for diversity by the Financial Times, are drawn from 25 countries. Lawrence Chan Hang-kin, CUHK's administrative director of marketing and student recruiting for MBA programmes, said: 'Applications for our 2010 intake were up 20 per cent over the year before, mostly from Europe. In terms of overall application trends, the top four or five business schools in Asia are receiving more applications whereas most of the schools in the US have seen a drop.' CUHK's business school, the city's oldest, launched a full-time MBA course in 1966 and began admitting non-local students 12 years later, but the number of foreign and mainland students remained small until 2000. The ratio of overseas students has slowly increased, surpassing the number of locals in the programme in the past three to four years. 'As a key financial centre, Hong Kong itself is a strong draw, and it's easy for foreigners to get a job here, even if they don't speak Chinese,' Chan said. 'They can receive an East-meets-West kind of MBA based on the US educational model, which is fully accredited in the US. But we also add a lot of Asian elements and study trips - and not just to China, but also to Japan and Korea.' For students from the mainland, Hong Kong offered an attractive alternative to studying overseas, Chan said. It was close to home, which meant the students could go home more frequently, and living costs were lower, he said. 'From the perspective of Chinese students, CUHK offers the best of both worlds,' he said. 'They can receive a US-style business education right at their doorstep. They can maintain and even build their network, and they can stay connected with China's booming economy.' Vasco van der Flier, 27, from the Netherlands, joined CUHK's full-time MBA programme in September. 'With the shifting economic attention from the Western world to Asia, Asian markets are emerging as an important, if not the most important, party in international economic trade,' Van der Flier said. 'Hong Kong has developed into a financial centre that competes with New York, London and Tokyo.' HKUST's business school has grown rapidly since being established in 1991, and the ratio of non-local to local students has steadily increased. Steve DeKrey, the school's senior associate dean and director of master's programmes, said the quality of students applying to the full-time MBA programme had also improved. 'The average age has gone from 27 to 29, they have more work experience, they have higher incomes and they have higher expectations,' DeKrey said. 'Our full-time MBA is now more diverse than our EMBA. Only 7 per cent of our full-time students are from Hong Kong.' The University of Hong Kong launched a full-time MBA programme in 2002. Knowing that local students preferred to pursue an MBA part-time while continuing to work, it targeted its first intake exclusively at students from Shanghai, then quickly switched its strategy. In the second year it went global, seeking the best and the brightest from around the world. Canadian Stuart Mercier, 28, who joined the programme in September, said he decided to take the qualification in Hong Kong because of the opportunities the city offered. 'Hong Kong is one of only a handful of truly global cities,' Mercier said. 'Cultures and commerce merge in Hong Kong in a manner unlike anywhere else in the world. As a result, the city benefits from a unique dynamism that truly sets it apart.' Emmanuel Poupelle, 28, from France, enrolled after working in Beijing for five years because he wanted to remain in the country while gaining the qualification. 'After working on the mainland, I felt that an efficient way to make the most of that experience would be to attend this programme and promote my profile through it simultaneously,' Poupelle said. With six years of marketing experience under his belt, Sachin Tipnis, from India, joined HKU in 2003, the year its MBA programme went global. 'For me, coming to Hong Kong was all about connecting to the fastest-growing region in the world,' Tipnis said. 'I wanted to connect to the region with the fastest growth because that way I could move with it.' After graduating in 2004, Tipnis was recruited by HKU to take up a marketing and admissions position to help internationalise MBA programmes and strengthen their brand name. He has been promoted four times since then, and is now an executive director of MBA programmes. 'What I have accomplished here can only happen when you are in a fast-moving market,' he said. 'That's the essence of Asia now.'