In 2010, He Bin transferred from China's Zhejiang University to the University of Hong Kong (HKU) — ranked the top school in Asia according to a report released by education company, Quacquarelli Symonds.
"The experience in Hong Kong is what I can't have in mainland universities," He told ABC News. "There's more freedom. It's a totally different lifestyle."
The HKU sophomore is majoring in business administration and computer science. In her opinion, mainland universities foster very solid skill sets, leading in science and technology. However, in the areas of business, economics and finance, Hong Kong comes out ahead.
"(HKU) fosters students to pursue their own lifestyle and goals," He added.
Despite undergoing a "quiet revolution" – as claimed by China's Ministry of Education – the nation's most prestigious universities didn't make the cut for Asia's top 10 universities. But does this rank necessitate a decrease in the caliber of Chinese students?
The 2010 Asian university rankings, released by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), show Hong Kong, Korea and Japan to be leading in Asian higher education. China's Tsing Hua University was ranked number 16 and Peking University ranked number 12.
QS, a company specializing in education, used criteria such as academic peer review, employer review and student to faculty ratio to evaluate universities. Graduate employability, teaching quality and international programs were also factors.
"I always regard QS rankings with a question mark," Xia Guangzhi, Tsing Hua's deputy director for international affairs, told ABC News. "Today's top universities must create knowledge through research. Can you develop socially recognized students? Can they perform on the world stage? I worry about progress in these areas."
In 2009, China outlined a long-term education reform plan for 2010-2020, according to Frank Quosdorf of the China Education Blog. These reforms aim to modernize the existing educational system and solidify China's foundation for a learning society.
Specifically for higher education, measures include the development of "internationally renowned colleges," teaching quality improvements and expansion of scientific research.
"Chinese colleges are often perceived as socialist and nothing more," Peking student Jin Xian (Sabrina) told ABC News. "Our schools don't rank worldwide."
Li Jing earned her undergraduate degree from Tsing Hua, and is now pursuing a graduate degree in the university's journalism school. Juggling an internship at Xinhua News Agency, Li divides her time between photography, sports and her friends. She hopes one day to become a foreign correspondent.
"Tsing Hua is very stressful and there's a lot of pressure," Li told ABC News. "Everyone's scores are top-notch, they are all very ambitious and want to make a difference."
Lindsey Kreutzer, a Northwestern student who studied at Tsing Hua over the summer, had a similar impression of campus dynamics.
"It's a place where learning reigns supreme," Kreutzer told ABC News. "I think they are much more intense in their studies than we are."
Every semester, Li takes between 10 to 12 classes. Despite the quantity, she says it is not perceived as very impressive, since some of the classes require minimal work.