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The basics
Hong Kong: Applying to University - Must read

The Hong Kong higher education system...simplified

Our breakdown of the Hong Kong Higher Education System for international students

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Often called Asia’s ‘World City,’ Hong Kong is home to a spate of world class universities and multi-national businesses. Borne between reigns of distinct cultures east and west, the city’s unique culture and charisma is unparalleled. Whilst the city is now officially back beneath Chinese control, Hong Kong still enjoys degrees of autonomy and for the most part has retained the education structure established by the British. Understanding the Hong Kong higher education system is paramount to lodging a successful study abroad application, and our simplified guide to what it’s all about will help you do just that.


There are a number of different higher education institutions in Hong Kong that offer qualifications at Vocational, Certificate, Associate, Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels. The type of institution you will go to will primarily depend on the qualification you need, followed by your particular area of study.


Private Institutions

These include ‘General Institutes’. There are a number of independent, private institutions that offer education both in general, technical and specialist instruction areas, such as Performing Arts at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Courses, programmes of study and entry requirements vary considerably between institutions and students are strongly advised to confirm details directly with their host.


Approved Post-Secondary College

Qualifications are awarded from certificate to Bachelor degree level, with some institutions officially allowed to include the word ‘University’ in their registration name. There are five post-secondary colleges in Hong Kong that each offer studies in general and specific areas. For example, Hong Kong Shue Yan University offers programmes in liberal arts whilst at Hang Seng Management College students may choose between one of just five degree programmes. 


Vocational Training Council member institutions

These include polytechnic universities. Offered programmes of study are technical in nature, focusing on applied skills in general fields such as arts and sciences rather than tackling them from a strictly academic standpoint. Qualifications at vocational and undergraduate levels are typically offered.



There are eight government-funded universities in Hong Kong that each offer programmes at Associate, Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral levels. Almost all programmes are taught in English. The city is currently in the process of overhauling its academic structures in order to create a more balanced, well-rounded learning experience that better prepares students for realities of the modern, globalized world. This initiative will see undergraduate programmes extend from three years to four.

Click here for a full list of higher education institutions in Hong Kong



The structure of a Bachelor degree in Hong Kong follows that of the UK. Students are able to complete studies in general fields of study within which they will nominate a ‘major,’ a specialisation within their study area students must  complete a quota of subjects in to be awarded the title. Universities in Hong Kong are divided up into a number of faculties by subject area, each with a set of general and more specific Bachelors programmes. In addition to their major, students are able to complete a ‘minor’ tract of study: a secondary specialisation within their study field with a lower required subject quota. Bachelors degrees are typically four years in length for full time students.

Some institutions also offer students to complete double degree programmes, in which they are required to meet credit requirements of two separate Bachelor’s degrees undertaken at the same time. As a result, these study programmes are longer in duration.  

Each university offers a range of study programmes across all general study areas, each with a unique set of major, minor, credit and entry requirements. For example, at the University of Hong Kong a typical course is worth 6 credits, whilst a full course load for an entire academic year would be equivalent to 60 credits. Course load options are flexible and students may take a lesser or greater number than the average amount of credits in a semester, provided they eventually meet the overall requirements of the programme.



Postgraduate programmes in Hong Kong are taught via research and coursework at both Master’s and Doctoral levels. Postgraduate study tackles general study areas with a more specialist focus, and so may require students to be more decisive in their subject choices. 

As with undergraduate, course requirements and particulars are specific to each institution, department and unique study programme, and should be pursued directly with the institution itself. Masters degrees are typically one year in duration, and may include taught, research or practical modules, as well as a thesis or dissertation component.


Academic culture

In alignment with new academic initiatives, Hong Kong universities seek to foster whole-person development that encourages students to develop a broad perspective on culture, social issues and inter-personal relations. Students are encouraged to develop practical skills in alignment with critical thought, with constant focus on the ‘real world’ application of what is taught in class. 

Whilst Hong Kong has retained the UK model for education, many academic attitudes stem from Chinese (Cantonese) culture. There is a strong focus on examinations as a necessary means of gauging academic progress, with key social value placed upon hard work and success through meritocracy. Students are always taught why they are learning something as well as being required to learn it, and so understand the larger process of learning as systematic and multi-faceted.

Students are expected to monitor and manage their academic progress independently and take the initiative to complete study independently to supplement what’s covered in class. Hong Kong communication style hinges on politeness and demonstrating degrees of respect towards social superiors, and so students used to more outspoken academic environments are advised to proceed with caution. Whilst some classes encourage discussion, expressing your opinion in class will not necessarily be taken as indicative of your engagement with course content.


Now that you know more about how education in Asia’s ‘World City’ works, why not browse courses in Hong Kong now and start planning your study abroad adventure?


Useful Links

Modern education in Hong Kong

Tuition fees in Hong Kong