image Although Hong Kong is probably as global as you can get in East Asia, surprisingly, there aren’t that many international students studying in Hong Kong. Occasionally, I get emails from prospect students who look for information about studying in Hong Kong and come across my blog, asking me what my impressions are about studying in Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Following are some quick notes about things you might want to think about or consider about studying as an international student in Hong Kong. Please note that my perspective is limited to my studies as a post-grad PhD student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and only reflects my impressions and experience after a single semester.


HKUST entrance to campus


All studies are conducted in English and English is almost always used for academic and administrative interactions, even when no international students or scholars are present. With that said, the language barrier becomes more noticeable in places like the cafeteria and I’ve already been in a seminar or two in other universities (like CHKU) that had a few sessions in Mandarin due to the visiting speaker’s request. Some general university events and lectures are held in Cantonese or Mandarin, but that is always explained in the notices about the event and is directed especially at the local or mainland audiences.


HKUST has one of the most impressive bureaucracies I’ve seen anywhere and from what I’ve heard this is generally the case for other HK universities as well. The administrative staff is always helpful, very efficient and has so far replied to all my queries and requests with unprecedented curtsey, speed and professionalism.


HKUST seaside view


The Hong Kong Universities collaborate with each other on a number of areas. You can easily order and transfer books between the libraries of the Hong Kong universities, students are invited to events and conferences in other universities, every university has open courses for students from other universities with full credit transfer and there alot of academic collaborations between scholars and students of all universities. Although the universities compete with each other to some degree, I have yet to come across any politics or ego in how the universities work together and from where I’m sitting it’s looking like good synergy.


While getting a scholarship for an undergraduate degree might be a bit of a challenge, all MPhil and PhD post-graduate students are on a scholarship from the Hong Kong government. The stipend is essentially 13000HK$ (/13400HK$ after the exams) per month for 10 months of the year and the other two months are usually taken care of by the department (either the Dean’s office or a mentoring professor). The scholarship can not be supplemented by additional work of any kind, including academic research assistance. To give you a sense of costs, tuition fee is around 22,000HK$ per semester, the most expensive on-campus dorms are about 2800HK$/month, and an average meal in an on-campus cafeteria is 20-40HK$. All in all, for the single student the studentship should be enough to take care of most of your needs and a bit more. If you want to live off-campus and eat out or party every once in a while, you might wanna consider planning your finances. There is new scheme announced by the HK government to attract world class scholars and students, so if your grades and record are good enough you can apply for a 20,000HK$/month scholarship which comes with a 10,000HK$/semester research travel expense account. Ask the HK university you’re applying to about that, they’ll give you further details.


HKUST from the sea - panorama


The faculty academic level that I’ve seen so far has exceeded my prior expectations. The department faculty is world class, the visiting professors I’ve had the last semester were terrific (1 from Harvard, 1 from Berkeley, and 1 from Lugano) and at most times there is an interesting interaction in class even though I sometimes find it slightly more quiet and polite than I’m used to. The structure of the PhD program consists of 2 years of courses (36 credits) followed by a comprehensive qualifying exam. The courses have been intense, and at the most busy period we had mandatory readings for class of over 25 academic articles and a few more casual assignments. Students are encouraged to work with faculty on research projects in their chosen topics of interest, either micro-OB, macro-OB or strategy, which I find essential and refreshing in contrast to prior academic experiences.


From the little I know about the undergrad degree from my friends at the university, competition is intense. The university has a "curve policy" to normalize grades to follow normal distribution and since the mainlanders who are accepted to the HK universities are said to be top of the best in the tens of millions of Chinese students looking for high quality education the result is – mainlanders are usually top of the class, followed by the locals and trailed by the international students, some of them struggling to pass. Although undergrads have an active society-club or hall life, they do spend long hours studying, far more than I’ve seen anywhere else I’ve studied before (Taiwan included). Interaction in class varies, and the university is attempting to encourage attendance and participation by means of a curious electronic device (called PRS – Personal Response System, find overview here) assigned to each student to vote on class discussions and "participation cards" that give you participation points or bonuses that affect your final score. After acting as a judge on a few competitions at the business school I can generally say that I was very impressed with the level of creativity, delivery and overall professionalism of the projects by the teams that has surpassed previous events I’ve sat on before.


HKUST entrance from above


Generally, the 3 groups of mainlanders, HKese and international students tend to socialize mainly within themselves and occasionally there are some interesting tensions between the groups. Though the groups do mingle and spend time together it doesn’t happen often as I thought it would. The general interest locals have had in me as a foreigner in other countries I’ve lived in has not replicated itself here in Hong Kong and I wonder about that sometimes. In my department, out of maybe 12-15 students there are 3 international students, myself included, all male BTW, and most of the students are mainlanders, and interestingly – mostly female. I wonder about that sometimes as well.


Got any other questions about HK universities, HKUST, or studying in Hong Kong as an international student? Let me know.

Tags: academic; hkust; Hong Kong; international students; universities;

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62 Comments on "The International Student Experience in Hong Kong (& HKUST)"

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tammy truong

i wanna do business in hongkong after i graduate! LOL
i think that is a nice place!


Hi Fili, glad to know you are doing fine in HK. Thank u very much for ur useful information about studying there. Take care


I thought your description of life as a student at HKUST was really thorough and matches what I've heard from my boyfriend who is studying for his MBA there.

Also, would you know of a guesthouse in Clear Water Bay, a room for rent?
Planning to visit soon.

Have a good school year ahead..


Murtaza Jabalpurwala

It is indeed vividly described & insightful for a person like me. You are very enthusiastic. Looking forward to meet you personally during my visit.

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Hey! I'll be joining HKUST as an international graduate student in Fall 2010. I am very excited. It's great to read your blog as an impression of what to expect.Hey! I'll be joining HKUST as an international graduate student in Fall 2010. I am very excited. It's great to read your blog as an impression of what to expect.

Max Hsu

Hi Fili ! I'm so glad I came across your blog, I'm definitely bookmarking it!
I'm heading over to HKUST next month actually for college, yup I'm and undergrad! Oh, I'll be an international student by the way. would you recommend me getting a single room or a double room?

I've been to the campus twice and it looks great. I hope you're having a good time there


I’m considering to apply to HKUST as an undergrad international student. I was wondering how many international students are from America, and if the acceptance rate would be high or low. Thanks!


I was wondering if you knew anything about how hard is it to get into HKU or HKUST as an international undergraduate. I want to study business there. I live in the United States btw.


hey there i’m one of the students who is going to this school and well i’m not from hongkong.
this is now my third year, and my experience? bad.
not only was i stuck in a major with the least number of international students, plus least number of people with the same gender, this probably was the worst three years of my whole life.

I’m just saying that for thoes who do come to HKUST, keep in mind that you’re experience will either be super amazing or super bad.


hi fili,
i was looking at the master’s program in computer science here..

i see that you have only spoken about under-grad and phd courses..

do u have any views on the master’s coursework program?


i am planning to pursue my studies at hkust as an international student.
I wanted to ask after undergrad education at hkust if i apply at USA universities do i have a good chance of getting admitted. After undergrads are there good job opportunities

Cassis Juniel

Do companies/businesses in Hong Kong/China tend to look for people with American degrees or HK degrees in terms of hiring someone?

Hey, I was wondering how you were accepted into your program and how you would gauge enrollment rates. I visited the university and audited classes along with my brother in 2009 for two months and I was awed. Now I am looking to spend a semester as a visiting student (my home university does not have an exchange agreement with HKUST). I am a Political Economy major with a GPA of 3.847/4 and intend to take basic business courses at HKUST. I know this is probably not something of which you would have insight but maybe you’ve met other people… Read more »

Fili, for your information, the ‘curve policy’ may happen in some courses, but this doesn’t come from the university.


And I have to say that this is a good article as you captures the situation quite accurately in such a short time at here.

Hello Filli, I am a European student studying at a boarding school (high school) in India and, after visiting Hong Kong last summer (2010), I am considering going to Hong Kong for undergrad studies in business (possibly economics). Unlike you (according to your post, I enjoyed the business and hectic nature of the city at first — I find the efficiency and modern spirit of HK wonderful. I have been looking at rankings but I am having difficulty finding out whether HKUST or HKU is deemed superior in business and economics (not considering other areas) — you are a Ph.D. student… Read more »

Hi Fili. it feels so great to read your posts about HKUST. I’m actually offered an admission to get into HKUST in school of engineering. What i really want to ask is:
1. Is it possible to get a financial aid/ scholarship for my first year? I heard it’s so hard.
2. I’m kind of afraid of adapting at there. I began to ask myself if HKUST is the best choice for me.


Hi Fili, loved reading your article. Nice.

I got admission for masters in City Univ HK. They say the college hostels are full, so I need to find accomodation by myself. How difficult is it to find accomodation near to the University? Also is there any hope that I can apply for some kind of scholarship, either from University or from the govt.


how hard is it to get in for an international student from the us


Hey c: just wondering how hard it will be for a scholarship for someone who lives in new zealand …do they pick them from each country or do they pick from all over the world combined? Thanks


Hello, I’m from Russia and i’m planning to go to University of hong kong, if it isn’t hard for you, can you tell me please do i need to pass SAT or IELTS or some other exams to get there?
Thanks a lot


Hey…Can you tell me about the future of Mphil in Computer science from HKUST?….As I am indian student and looking for coming back after my Master with depth knowledge and good opportunity…….is it going to worth to spend this much money…….


Hi Fili, I think Hong Kong’s universities are getting more and more hard to get in as there are many top mainlander students looking for high quality education in Hong Kong. And I found something interesting that Hong Kong local students are trying to go oversea study but mainlander students are looking for study chance to get in Hong Kong.

Hi, I am somewhat new to all this, but I’m currently a student of International and Global Studies (focused mostly on France and China) in the U.S. I’m currently doing ESL work on the mainland but developed/ deepened an interest in Hong Kong during a recent visit. My hope is to study sociology there at the graduate level (either master’s or doctoral program; the first may be more expensive, the second more competitive as I understand it). Most of what I’ve read so far is from people in the science, tech, and business fields. However, my interests lie in the… Read more »

Hi there! I’m the one who asked a little while back about the sociology programs at HKU and CUHK. Since then, I’ve heard back from one of them about finances, and your comments were really helpful. Now one of my primary concerns is housing. How can international students find lodging in such a densely packed, expensive city? I know that some metropolises in the U.S. like New York have tons of online resources for people looking for roommates, open to couch surfers, etc. What about HK? Is housing the silver bullet, or is it doable?


Hello Fili, Nice to heard your experience in HKUST. I have also planning to do PHD from HKUST. I have some query..pls give me appropriate response.

Is It necessary to show any publication related research during PHD admission in HKUST?. I do not have any research publication and i want to get admission in PHD (Management). Am i eligible for this admission or not ?



Hi im from india and i want to apply for engineering (undergrad) but the fee structure seems intense. How hard should one work for a scholarship :$ ??


Hi i am from India and i am applying to hkust for cs engineering (undergrad)
I want to know what are the chances for an international undergrad engineering student to get a scholarship (full or 75%+) ?
And what all do I have to do in order to get one ?

Adedamola Onabanji
Fill has no doubt highlighted the best you’d get at HKUST, however, the medium of instruction is English, I’d refer to it as chinglish. In my opinion research students at hkust would consider it a wonderful opportunity as they are on scholarship. I am rounding up my Msc program this May and I wouldn’t even refer to it as an okay program, I wouldn’t know about the other programs, the school doesn’t offer choices as you are compelled to accept what you are offered. form my experience; HKUST isn’t such a great place to study especially for international students from… Read more »
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