Hong Kong's scheme to attract PhD students from the mainland and abroad - with money, high-level contacts and opportunities in a booming China - is entering its second year on the upswing. Launched in 2009, the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme has awarded fellowships to 125 scholars this academic year, up from 115 in its first full year, 2010-11. Mainlanders make up the majority of recipients in both years, while the number of participants from outside Asia has grown to 13.6 per cent this year from 10.4 per cent last year. Students who apply for fellowships cite the relatively large amount of the grant, the access to mainland China and the high level of academic advisers made available to them. 'I've seen two Nobel laureates already,' says Riccardo Taormina, an Italian civil and structural engineering student at Polytechnic University. The fellowship scheme provides a monthly stipend of HK$20,000 (about US$2,600) and a travel allowance for conferences and research of HK$10,000 per year for each recipient for three years. That puts Hong Kong at the highest end of the American scale. A typical PhD fellow in the United States receives a tuition waiver and a stipend of between US$12,000 and US$25,000 a year. 'I'm less interested in teaching in the US,' says American Edwin Schmitt, an anthropology student at City University. 'There, you only meet people from the US; here you'll meet more people from other parts of the world.' However, critics have faulted the programme for not attracting applicants from prestigious foreign universities and not being sufficiently international - more than 70 per cent of fellowship recipients are from Hong Kong and the mainland. 'To be fair, they're getting a lot of applications from mainland China and a lot of them are incredibly gifted,' says Nariman Yousefi, a 2010 recipient from Iran who is studying for a mechanical engineering PhD at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The former chairwoman of the University Grants Committee, Laura Cha Shih May-lung, in reply to critics last year said it took time to make universities more international. But it seems news of opportunities are filtering through. Some PhD students at top US universities say they have heard of the generous fellowships on offer in Hong Kong and Singapore. 'Personally I probably wouldn't go that far, just because it's so far from family and friends,' said Melanie Tannenbaum, a PhD student in social psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 'But I know a good number of people who have [gone to study or work in Hong Kong].'