Good news for students who do not want to go through public examinations for university entrance: the Irish International Hotel & Catering School and its branch Irish International Business School are providing an alternative pathway for students to reach Irish universities.
Quality and Qualifications Ireland has drawn up a vocational education structure, the National Framework of Qualifications, dividing the country's vocational higher education into 10 levels.
Under the structure, the two Irish institutes are providing advanced certificates at level five and six, enabling students to cross to universities after finishing the certificates.
"Level 6 is like the associate degree in Hong Kong," said Kam Chin, the founder and director of the schools. "After finishing level six, students are able to directly go to the second year of university."
Within the structure, students are not required to take an extra exam for entering the universities, but can apply with their results of the advanced certificates.
"Their attendance, class performance, classwork, homework and quizzes all count for marks, which consists of 70 percent of the final score. A formal exam is the other 30 percent of the final score," he said. "Fifty percent will be a pass, but students can obtain a merit or distinction if they perform better."
Chin said three to four distinctions will be enough for a student to be accepted by universities.
"One hundred percent of our past students entered the first year of university, while direct entry to the second year was 70 percent."
He explained that direct entry to year two is only for students who apply for degrees in the same subject they studied for the first year, so not all students can be admitted to second year directly.
"For example, for a student who did advanced certificate in business at our school, he has to start from the first year in university if he chooses to study electrical engineering," said Chin.
The courses consist of common subjects and professional subjects, so that flexibility is given to choose another subject in universities.
The schools provide three advanced certificate courses in professional cookery, business, and tourism with business. To be enrolled in the courses, students have to be at high school level and aged 16 to 17.
A certain level of English is required for the lessons. "They have to reach IELTS 5.5 or pass the English test assigned by our school," said Chin.
Students with a better English level may go to level six, while the ones with poorer English skills will be placed in level five. Those who do not reach the English level requirement can take an extra English course before the semester starts.
Students who begin the certificate courses may have a lower level of English and an unclear path. But after one or two years, they are able to reach a level for studying in the university with other students.
The school's founder said the secret behind this is small-class teaching. "We have no more than 10 students in a class, therefore establishing a close teacher-student relationship."
Teachers get to know students well, and closely look at their personal development and give individual feedback.
Chin emphasized that the Irish learning environment is much less stressed than that of Hong Kong, allowing students to think. The university space in Ireland is sufficient and students do not have to compete for room to move. "Within the classroom, there is positive competition. Students are helping each other. As long as they reach the standard, everyone is able to find a space in university."
The schools are in a small hotel in Galway. The environment allows students to get in touch with the local community, as well as conduct an internship.
"The hotel is open to the public, while we make use of the conference rooms as classrooms," he said. "Lunch is also sold to high school students nearby, creating an opportunity for our students to get into the English environment."
With around 40 students, Chin said the ratio of international and Irish students is half and half.
As a Hong Kong person who moved to Ireland in 1987, Chin has seen a lot of Chinese students who had to work hard in the foreign country to send money back to their families.
He said the purpose of their stay in Ireland was no longer studying, but earning money, and thus he wanted to open a school to meet their needs. "Tuition fees are around HK$250,000 to $280,000 in Ireland, but in Britain they are HK$400,000."
During university, students can get a part-time job to help make money. "With a minimum hourly wage of 9.80 euros (HK$87), students are able to work 20 hours a week during school days, and 40 hours during long breaks."
Chin hopes that students will not be hindered by other factors and feel free to study what they desire.