Interim Report of UGC Task Force
Proposed To Increase Research Funding

PTU News Reporter

To review the direction of research funding in tertiary education institution, the HKSAR government announced the establishment of the Task Force on Review of Research Policy and Funding, appointing TSUI Lap-chee, President of The Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, as  chairperson. The Task Force issued the interim report for consultation on 6th June, encompassing a total of seven recommendations, and to initiate public consultation.  IP Kin-yuen, Legislative Councillor and Vice President of the HKPTU welcomes the suggestions of the increase in funding, supporting the research and development done by universities; IP also calls for attention to the government’s policy in reinforcing the cultivation of local academic talents.

Task Force Recommending the Government to Increase Funding

According to the interim report, the ratio of Gross Domestic Expenditure (GDE) on research and development (R&D) to GDP was 0.79%, significantly lower as compared to China, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. To meet the pledge of raising the ratio to 1.5% as proposed by Chief Executive Carrie LAM, the Task Force recommended the government to double the competitive research funding from $2 billion to $4 billion per annum. Such increase, as recommended by the Task Force, will include doubling the annual research funding of RGC from $1 billion to $2 billion. To compensate the shortfall of the Research Endowment Fund due to decrease of investment return in recent years, the HKPTU demanded last year for the government to allocate funding to the Research Endowment Fund of the RGC, in which the government clearly supports such demands. The Task Force further recommended the government to top up the Research Endowment Fund by no less than $10 billion.

Apart from government funding, the Task Force put forward to entice private entities to provide funding and donations for R&D. Findings of the Task Force pointed to the examples of other countries with a high ratio of R&D funding to GDP, with the majority of R&D in these countries propelled by private entities. On the contrary, less than 45% of R&D activities in Hong Kong are initiated by the business sector. In response, the government had undertaken to provide additional tax deduction for expenditure incurred by enterprises on R&D.

Establishing Fellowships to Attract Talents

In order to retain as well as attract talents for R&D to progress in Hong Kong, the Task Force recommended to introduce three fellowships. To encourage doctoral graduates in pursuing careers in postdoctoral research in Hong Kong, the Task Force recommended to introduce a Postdoctoral Fellowship, proposing to provide 50 places, with each awardee to be granted a fellowship stipend for a maximum of three years. The Task Force also proposed to introduce Research Fellows and Senior Research Fellows, aiming to subsidize applicants at Associate Professor and Professor levels. The Task Force proposed the award of around ten fellows respectively in each round of exercise.

IP welcomes the government’s increased recurrent funding and one-time fund allocation, at the same time, IP stressed on the importance of the government to further its efforts specifically in cultivating local talents. According to IP, a great number of doctoral graduates and scholars in Hong Kong came from overseas or China. He expects the government to provide better support for local scholars and students, encouraging them to enroll research postgraduate programs, as well as providing better opportunities for these students in pursuing a career of research and development upon graduation. To enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness, IP deems it is important for local students to opt into a career of research and development, hence ensuring sufficient talents in the future.

Consulting Authorities may be Necessary when Establishing Strategic Planning for R&D

Currently, the Collaborative Research Fund, the Theme-based Research Scheme, and the Areas of Excellence Scheme under the University Grants Committee are responsible for supporting collaborative academic research across UGC-funded universities. The Task Force recommended the UGC to consider the possibilities of combining the three funding schemes, with the new funding scheme as to provide support to the setting up of joint research institutes across universities, encouraging institutions to conduct research on topics of strategic importance. Definitions of “strategic importance”, as proposed by the Task Force, shall be subjected to consultation with the government and universities in order to address challenges facing by the society. President of the HKPTU FUNG Wai-wah expressed his concerns on this recommendation, stating that for the government to lead the strategic planning of R&D may not be ideal, that “if the government intends to incentivize research on “Belt and Road” or the Bay Area, scholars are likely to develop research planning on such issues in order to compete for funding, resulting in over emphasis on a specific aspect among universities in research”. FUNG stressed on the potential shortcomings of such recommendation, in which the academia overlooks or neglects other equally significant research topics in favor of research topics likely to be granted funding, resulting in overly specific and unified research areas among universities.

Neither Research or Education should be Slighted

FUNG also stressed on the HKPTU’s support on the government in increasing funding to support research in the academia. At the same time, FUNG pointed out the strong tendency among universities in favoring research at the expense of teaching. For the Task Force’s proposal to increased $2 billion funding to be granted on competitive basis, and the newly introduced fellowship to meet only the needs of a small proportion of research fellows, the recommendations of the Task Force may further intensify the tendencies of universities to emphasize on research in order to compete for funding and resources. While increasing funding allocated for academic research, the HKPTU deems it equally important for the government to ensure universities puts equal emphasis on teaching, including to stop all teaching staff lay-offs and employing teaching staff on part-time basis. The HKPTU sees it to be a solution ensuring research fellows at universities are given sufficient resources, while teaching staff are ensured proper respect and remuneration.