The government has raised the level of non-local students allowed to enrol at Hong Kong universities from 10 to 20 per cent, while relaxing immigration rules so that they can work here after graduation. Many students are lured by the city's pivotal status. "Hong Kong is close to the mainland, which is booming with opportunities," says Temily Gopan, from Malaysia, who is studying journalism at the University of Hong Kong (HKU).
Katarina Ivarsson, a Swedish graduate of Polytechnic University's (PolyU) master of design programme, says that through the faculty, she first landed a job as a designer for a Taiwanese manufacturer that requires travel between Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan.
"It was a lot of responsibility but I learned so much," she says, adding that there is usually a gap between the design world in the West and the manufacturing world on the mainland. She believes her education and job experience allow her to bridge that gap.
"Here it's so much easier to go to the mainland, meet manufacturers and talk to engineers," says Ivarsson, who set up her own design studio in Hong Kong with a designer friend in 2008.
Apart from Hong Kong's strategic location, the other factors that many international students find attractive are language affinity, academic freedom and a decent education offered at an economic cost.
"I was interested in going to the mainland but most universities there offer courses in Chinese," says Timo Heinonen, an HKU politics and geography student from Finland. He says he can go to the mainland from Hong Kong. "I went to Peking University as an exchange student," Heinonen says. "So I can still go there and see, but from a more objective point of view."
Krupali Raiyani, a student from India studying a master's in interaction design at PolyU's school of design, says few colleges in the region cover her area of interest, a discipline that looks into how people experience and interact with designs. "It's relatively new, so not every school teaches it. Also, if I choose a school in the United States or Europe, it will be more expensive," Raiyani says.
Many Asian students are attracted by Hong Kong's extensive international business network.
Renee Zhang, a Chinese University translation graduate from Shanghai, says her internship as a translator with an international public relations firm in Hong Kong has significantly boosted her resume. "I think it will be easier to land a job in a global firm in Hong Kong, especially when I have done a bachelor's degree here."
Gopan, who interned at CNN's office in Hong Kong, says that, in terms of job opportunities, the city is a "wonderful place" for beginners. "I want to work with an international organisation. It doesn't have to be a news organisation but just a big name that can lead me to other opportunities," she says.
Lessons learned from time in the city
"I took Putonghua lessons because it will [be more useful] in business than Cantonese, which is confined to Hong Kong and southern China. Hong Kong is a very international city, but relying on English only will not get you as far as you want."
Lisa Onland (HKU)
Look beyond Hong Kong
"If I study finance and business, there will be plenty of job opportunities here. But [as an interaction designer], I see there are more of my kind of jobs in Shanghai and Beijing. I think I have to try and look outside."
Krupali Raiyani (PolyU)
Adapt and assimilate
"When I first got to Hong Kong, I was shocked. There were so many impressions, so many noises and I went to bed every day with a spinning head ... But now when I go back to my mum's place, everything's so quiet and so slow."
Katarina Ivarsson (PolyU)