Under the terms of the deal, a number of top-performing Chinese students will be offered a place to study engineering at HKU, with the best being invited to switch to a four-year degree at Cambridge after their first year.
The partnership will effectively cast HKU in the role of a “feeder” institution, but fewer than 15 students will be offered a place at Cambridge, with the first starting in 2013.
Geoff Parks, admissions director at Cambridge, said HKU had approached the university to suggest the partnership because it “believes that the link will help them recruit the best students from [mainland] China”.
“The school-leaving standards from Chinese schools are highly variable from province to province, so many very able Chinese students could not manage the transition direct from school to study at Cambridge,” Dr Parks said.
“The first year at HKU bridges that gap, preparing students for study at Cambridge. Only the very best from those who apply will be offered places at Cambridge.”
Dr Parks stressed that Cambridge was not specifically targeting Chinese students, but trying to recruit the “best students from all over the world”.
“China happens to be a very large country that is very actively encouraging its young people to become engineers, so it is likely to generate a lot of good potential applicants,” he said.
But he added: “It must be emphasised that we are not expecting very many students to come to Cambridge via this route.”
Chinese students who are accepted by Cambridge will graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree as the year at HKU will be classed as a foundation year.
The scheme may also be open to Hong Kong students studying engineering at HKU whose first-year grades are judged to be “exceptional”.
If the scheme is successful, Cambridge has indicated that there may be scope to extend it to other disciplines.