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PhD Study in Hong Kong - A Guide for 2019

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Though Hong Kong is small in terms of area, the territory is the world’s third largest global financial centre and a hub of trade, innovation and cultural exchange. This is reflected in a globally ranked higher education system, with many research opportunities for international PhD students.

This page explains what it’s like to study a PhD in Hong Kong, what opportunities are available, how to apply and how to access research funding as an international student.

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PhD opportunities in Hong Kong – what’s on offer for 2019?

Hong Kong presents a brilliant balance of academic research opportunities and extra-curricular activities. One day you may be walking the halls of your campus and the next enjoying rides and taking photos with Tigger at Disneyland Hong Kong.

All eight of Hong King’s government-funded universities receive generous support with the resources necessary to invest in excellent PhD research – and scholarships for international students.

With all of this in mind, and the fact you will be studying in one of the most famous cosmopolitan cities in the world here are a few reasons to consider a PhD in Hong Kong this year:

  • Globally ranked higher education system - There are only 22 universities in Hong Kong, but several are ranked amongst the best in the world.
  • Immigration Arrangement for Non-Local Graduates (IANG) - This Government policy allows graduates to remain in Hong Kong for 12 months with no restrictions, whilst they search for work.
  • Welcoming - International students are welcomed in Hong Kong as shown by the international scholarships and IANG policy. In addition, Hong Kong was recently voted one of the best student cities in the world.
  • Culture and attractions - Whether it helps your research or not, there’s a lot to see in Hong Kong: the Hong Kong Skyline, Disneyland, the Clock Tower and the Tian Tan Buddha.

PhD Study in Hong Kong
Universities 22
Nobel Prizes 1
Oldest University University of Hong Kong (1911)
International Students 14,000
PhD Length 3-4 years
Typical Fees HKD $90,000-265,000 (USD $11,478-33,797)
Academic Year September to May

Hong Kong universities

The Hong Kong higher education system is similar to the UK, where students are required to complete a Bachelors degree before proceeding on to postgraduate study.

There are only twenty universities in Hong Kong. Eight of them are funded by the University Grants Committee and the other twelve are self-financing institutions.

Several them are world ranked institutions, carry out research in major disciplines.

Public and private

Hong Kong’s higher education institutions can be divided into two categories, according to the funding they receive.

  • University Grants Committee - These institutions are publicly funded by the Hong Kong Government. However, each institution is an autonomous body.
  • Self-funding institutions - These 12 institutions include one statutory university (private but receives Government funding) and the approved post-secondary colleges. The colleges are educational institutes that can award qualifications at Bachelors level or above.

It is common for international students to study at the UGC universities as these receive the Hong Kong Government scholarships. However, PhD opportunities are available at a wide range of universities in Hong Kong.

The future of Hong Kong higher education

The Hong Kong Government is looking to enhance the territory’s position as an international business centre. Therefore, they have developed two key funds to develop the higher education system:

  • Self-financing Post-secondary Education Fund - This is a HKD $3.52 billion (USD $448 million) fund for the non-government institutions. Grants are being awarded for new research facilities, and interest-free start-up loans for new institutions
  • The Research Endowment Fund - A HKD $5 billion (USD $637 million) fund provided by the Government to develop internationally accredited research centres.

The development of funds like these demonstrate Hong Kong’s investment into postgraduate research and desire to attract exceptional international PhD students from all over the world.

Hong Kong university rankings

Hong Kong has a number of highly ranked institutions; six of the twenty universities are ranked within the first 500 of the current QS and THE rankings. The government is seeking to improve this by introducing the funding initiatives.


Top Hong Kong Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
The University of Hong Kong 36 25 101-150
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 46 37 201-300
The Chinese University of Hong Kong 55 49 151-200
City University of Hong Kong =110 55 201-300
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University =173 106 201-300
The Hong Kong Baptist University 401-500 =277 501-600
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do ranking matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Other institutions

In addition to the universities, Hong Kong is home to various sub-degree institutions.

Sub-degree institutions are higher education providers of associate degrees and higher diplomas. Some also offer Masters courses, but they are not centres for PhD research.

PhD structure

The core component of a Hong Kong PhD programme is similar to that of the UK and other countries. You will submit and defend a thesis detailing the research you have conducted.

Programme length

The majority of Hong Kong doctoral programmes are three or four years full-time depending on your previous qualifications. The three-year programme is for students who have a research Masters (such as an MRes). Whereas the four-year programme, is for those with a first in their Bachelors and/or Masters degree.

There is an option for international students to study part-time. However, in order to comply with visa restrictions, the course must be taken in a UGC funded university. A three-year part-time programme is typically 54 months and a four-year part-time programme 72 months.

The full-time academic year consists of two semesters: fall (September-November) and spring (January-April).

Assessment and examination

The content of PhD degrees in Hong Kong may vary depending upon the discipline and institution. However, unlike in the UK, some of the courses include compulsory teaching modules.

Students are typically registered provisionally under a probation period. For 4-year programmes this is 18-months and for 3-year it is 12-months. You will have to submit a detailed scheme of work before the end of this probation period. At this point your candidature will be confirmed or terminated (similarly to the UK confirmation review).

The 4-year PhD programme involves both study and research. You may be required to attend courses relevant to your discipline as well as core Graduate School courses. The courses are assessed from coursework.

A 3-year programme doesn’t involve mandatory courses on specific topics; but, students can still attend courses if they want to. It does include one compulsory module on research ethics (similar to other countries).

Both programmes are completed via submission of a thesis and you must complete an intent to submit thesis 3-months prior to submission. The thesis defence is similar to the UK with an internal and external examiner.

Fees and funding

In Hong Kong there is no standard tuition fee cap and universities charge a significantly higher rate for international students.

However, as with the UK there are a number of scholarship programmes, or options to work part-time making Hong Kong an affordable option for PhD study abroad.

PhD fees

As the universities are private or autonomous government funded institutions fees vary. You can expect to pay between HKD $90,000-$265,000 (USD $11,478-$33,797) a year for tuition fees. These are typically paid in two instalments per year.

You can check fees for specific PhDs in Hong Kong by looking at the opportunities listed here on FindAPhD. Or you can access the information on your chosen university's website.

Living costs

Known as Asia’s world city, Hong Kong is a vibrant place to live during a PhD. However, the city is also one of the world’s most expensive.

There are a number of costs other than tuition you will need to account for:

  • Accommodation - an on-campus room will cost HKD $5,000-15,000 (USD $637-$1,911) per semester, a private flat will typically cost that amount per month
  • Living expenses - it is predicted you will need HKD $30,000-50,000 (USD $3,823-6,377) per year to cover other costs

For more information, see the official guidelines provided by the Hong Kong Government.

Accommodation costs in Hong Kong

Accomodation can be expensive in Hong Kong and it books up very fast. Making arrangements in advance such as securing on-campus accomodation could save you a lot of money during your PhD study abroad.

Government international scholarships

As the costs of tuition fees for international students are quite high, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSAR) awards a number of scholarships which non-local students can apply for.

The scholarships are for outstanding students studying in one of the eight UGC-funded universities.

  • The HKSAR Scholarship - The scholarship is HKD $80,000 (USD $10,203) per year. Starting from 2018/2019 the scholarship will cover the full tuition fee of the awardee.
  • The Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (HKPFS) - Students receive an annual stipend of HKD $240,000 ($30,610) and a conference and study-related travel allowance of HKD $10,000 ($1,275) per year for up to three years.

If a student is enrolled on a PhD that is more than three years, they should apply to their institution for additional financial support.

University scholarships

If you are unsuccessful in securing the Government Scholarship, you may have the opportunity to apply for university scholarships.

A number of institutions offer full and half-fee tuition scholarships. On-top of this some will have a top scholarship delegated to outstanding international students. This covers annual tuition fees, on-campus accommodation and a living stipend.

Because universities in Hong Kong are striving to increase diversity on campus and improve their international research projects a number of universities have introduced an international student grant. Any student is eligible, except those in receipt of the top scholarship. The grants on average provide the student with HKD $30,000 (USD $3,836) per year.

For more information and for applications check your university’s website.

Applying for a PhD in Hong Kong

As there are only a small number of universities within Hong Kong there is no centralised application service. You should apply directly to your university of choice ensuring you meet their requirements.

Admission requirements

Different institutions and programmes will have their own requirements but there are a couple of key things most will require:

  • Bachelors degree - for four-year programmes you will need good honours degree BSc and/or Masters (some require a 1st) from an institution comparable to the university
  • Research masters - for three-year programmes you must have a research-based Masters MRes/MPhil in a related field, from a comparable institution
  • Examinations - you may have to take entrance exams to test your abilities to follow coursework and courses within the programme

Language requirements

The majority of courses are taught in English within Hong Kong. With the exception of some short courses taught in Mandarin (not applicable for PhD students).

Therefore, language requirements are only applicable to students where their undergraduate teaching and examinations were not in English. These students must complete one of the following English language tests:

  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) - a minimum score of 550 in the paper-based test, or a minimum of 80 in the internet-based test
  • English Language Testing System (IELTS) - a minimum overall of band 6 with no subtest lower than 5.5
  • Other - Grade C or above in the: Overseas General Certificate of Education (GCE), International General Certificate of Education (IGCSE) or Cambridge Test of Proficiency in English Language (CPE).

Application process

In Hong Kong students are required to research different institutions and supervisors before filling out formal applications.

You must email a prospective supervisor to discuss research areas and gain approval to supervise a thesis. Following this there are several application steps you must complete:

  • Provide academic transcripts - universities will require copies of your undergraduate academic transcripts and certificates, these can be obtained from your previous university
  • Provide references - you must supply two academic references from your previous university
  • Pay the application fee - most institutions charge an application fee of HKD $400 (USD $51), if you are applying to two different supervisors you must submit two separate applications and pay the fee twice
  • Complete online application form - these can be found on the university’s graduate school website, you must complete this and attach the first two documents and proof of application fee payment

Formal applications are usually open from September-December the year before the prospective start date, with some institutions allowing PhD applications 3 months prior to the start date.

Interviews

Depending upon your application and the institution you may be invited for an interview. If you are an overseas student with a long travel time the interview will typically be conducted over video or web chat.

However, it is not unheard of for prospective international students to be flown out for 3-4 days for a tour and interview process.

Interviews tend to follow a typical structure including: a description of yourself, previous research, strengths/weaknesses and questions on their research.

What happens during a PhD interview?

Your interview for a PhD in Hong Kong will follow a fairly standard format (apart from the fact in may take place online). Our guides give advice on what happens at a PhD interview and an overview of some questions you might be asked.

Student visas

Nationals of 170 countries and territories can visit Hong Kong without a visa for 7-180 days (UK-180 days, US/Europe- 90 days). However, for PhD study you will need to obtain a student visa and you must have been accepted to a university to apply for one.

Before filling out a visa application contact your institution as you will need a local sponsor (the institution will arrange this). Also, many institutions will either complete international student’s visas for them or offer help with the application process.

It is recommended that you apply for your visa as soon as your study is confirmed; typically, it takes 6 weeks to process a visa application for study provided you submit the following documents:

  • Form ID995A completed and signed by you and form ID995B completed and signed by your sponsor
  • A photocopy of your identity card or passport and a recent passport sized photo attached to your ID995A
  • A photocopy of your Hong Kong institution acceptance letter and acceptance letter
  • Proof of accommodation arrangements
  • Proof of finance: self-funding student bank statements and scholarship awardees proof of acceptance and funds. If someone is sponsoring you financially you must submit their declaration stating your relationship, their intention to support your study and living expenses and proof of their financial standings.

The Government of Hong Kong supply a visa application guidebook for international students. Applications can be submitted by post to the HKSAR Receipt and Despatch Sub-Unit or to the nearest Chinese diplomatic and consular mission in your residing country.

Hong Kong identity card

All Hong Kong residents who are permitted to stay in Hong Kong for more than 180 days must apply for a Hong Kong identity card (HKID).

International students are required to apply for a HKID at the Immigration Department within 30-days of their arrival. You can book an advanced appointment using the Immigration Department's 24-hour Appointment Booking Service for Hong Kong Smart Identity Card applications, using your passport number as the number of the identity document.

Applications are free and typically take 10 days to process and once received you are required dot carry the card at all times! It will allow you to use the government medical services at the local rate.

Working in Hong Kong as an international PhD student

In the past students were not allowed to work during their study period. However, in recent years, the Government have made a number of exceptions. Making it easier for international students to fund study and living costs.

  • During term time - students are permitted to work no more than 20 hours per week, and the work must be on-campus
  • Out of term time - there are no restrictions on working hours and location during the summer
  • Internships - internships which are mandatory, study related or arranged by your university can be conducted for a maximum of six months

Before taking up paid work you should check with your university as to whether you are allowed and to make sure it fits your visa requirements.

Next steps

Hong Kong is very popular with international students, with a strong economy, vibrant culture and excellent research institutions. All of this means you will definitely enjoy your PhD experience. But where will you go next?

Can I work in Hong Kong after my PhD

Hong Kong encourages international graduates to remain after graduation.

The Government has introduced the Immigration Arrangement for Non-Local Graduates. International students who have completed a full-time degree in Hong Kong may apply to stay/return and work in Hong Kong. Applications are submitted on the immigration departments website.

Graduates who submit their application within 6-months of graduation are classed as fresh and can be granted 12 months stay with no restrictions. Those who have not graduated yet may apply for an extension of stay whilst they wait for their results.

Graduates who submit applications beyond 6-months of their graduation are classified as returning. Returning international graduates are required to secure an offer of employment upon application and may be granted 12 months stay with no restrictions. The job must be to the standard of a graduate at their level.

To increase your stay past the 12-month period, as long as you have secured work, you can apply for a General Employment Policy Visa.

Find a PhD in Hong Kong

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Hong Kong? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 30/11/2018

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