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A third-year Chinese University medical student took her own life yesterday – the fifth suicide at the Sha Tin institution in the six months since the start of the academic year.

Two other students at higher education institutions in the city have also taken their own lives in the same period, contributing to what one respected academic called a “worrying” trend.

Yesterday’s tragedy came when the 20-year-old female student jumped from the building where she lived in a Fanling housing estate.

Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, said there were normally about two such cases every year and suggested the increase might be related to a change in the education system that made students enter universities a year earlier than before.

“These students may not be as well prepared for university life,” said Yip. “Universities should be more aware of this and enhance their counselling support.”

Police said the student, surnamed Cheung, was found lying in a small pond in Dawning Views at 9.50am. She was taken to North District Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Police suspected Cheung jumped from her apartment in the housing estate and said that preliminary investigation found nothing suspicious.

Officers did not find any death note at the scene but understood that Cheung had been “unhappy” due to study-related issues.

A spokeswoman for Chinese University confirmed that Cheung was in her third year at the university’s medical school. She said the university would provide appropriate help to Cheung’s family.

“Vice-chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu is deeply grieved by [Cheung’s] departure,” said the spokeswoman. “He again calls for young people to treasure their precious life and never give up easily.”

The spokeswoman added the university had noticed during admission that “quite a few” students had symptoms of depression and anxiety before entering school, so it had hired more professional counsellors, enhanced cooperation with non-governmental organisations and strengthened the internal support network for students.

Yip said the switch to a six-year secondary and four-year university education system in 2012 meant that students were entering university a year earlier than in the previous system of seven years in secondary and three years at university.

He said young adults were facing a turning point around the age of 18 and tended to encounter more difficulties, so they would need more help and support from families and schools.

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