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Call for Preliminary Proposals

Areas of Excellence Scheme 2018/19 (Eighth Round)
Call for Preliminary Proposals

Purpose

The Research Grants Council (RGC) is inviting the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities to submit preliminary proposals for the Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme 2018/19 (Eighth Round).

Objectives of the Scheme

2. The Scheme intends to support both basic and applied research of high academic merit. The scope of a proposal should be broad and long term, and at the same time sufficiently focused. Research collaboration is one of the core requirements for a proposed AoE, and both inter-institutional collaboration projects and inter-disciplinary projects within the same university are encouraged. A successful proposal should involve a combination of research and teaching, and should aim to:

  • be inter-disciplinary (if it is based on one distinct discipline, address a wide range of specific problems);
  • address a broad range of inter-related problems;
  • show a clear sense of purpose, direction and priorities; and
  • focus on a number of well-defined problems.

3. The proposal should demonstrate strength of synergies and clear evidence of resource commitment on the part of the university(ies) as well as other collaborating parties. The proposal should also include a knowledge dissemination plan with the aim to communicating the project outcomes to not only the research community but also other stakeholders such as the general public, relevant industrial sectors and policy makers.

4. Applicants who contemplate applying for funding support from the Innovation and Technology Fund at a later stage may provide a technology transfer plan in the preliminary proposal for advance information of the Innovation and Technology Commission. This plan will not be assessed by the RGC for the purpose of shortlisting proposals, i.e. the assessment criteria as set out in Annex D of this call circular will not be affected.

Submission of Preliminary Proposals

5. General information to applicants and operational arrangements for matching funding for projects funded under the AoE Scheme 2018/19 (Eighth Round) are set out in Annexes A and B.

6. The template on Call for Preliminary Proposals is in Annex C. A preliminary proposal should consist of two mandatory parts and one optional part, namely (i) (mandatory part) Summary of the Research Proposal (should not exceed one A4 page in RGC's format1), (ii) (mandatory part) Details of the Research Proposal (should not exceed five A4 pages in RGC's format1) and (iii) (optional part) Technology Transfer Plan. No other attachment to the proposal, except a one-page curriculum vitae of the PC and each of the Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PIs) (i.e. Appendix A) and the details of project budget (i.e. Appendix B), is allowed.

1 RGC's format: font: Times New Roman; font size: 12 point; margin: one-inch all round; spacing: single line spacing.

7. There is no ceiling or quota on the number of proposals to be submitted by each university. All applications must be submitted to the UGC Secretariat through the Research Office of the coordinating university by 5:00 pm on 4 January 2018. Please provide six hard copies and one soft copy of the proposals (allows search function and with size up to 5MB per proposal). The soft copy should contain all the information as presented in the hard copy. Please save all files in one CD or one USB memory stick, with the file names identical to the project reference number specified in the fifth paragraph of Annex C.

8. The RGC does not impose any disciplinary priorities or preference on the proposals. However, proposals that fall within the scope of the topics of the Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) should be submitted under the TRS. If the applicants choose to submit such proposals to the AoE Scheme, full justifications should be provided. The RGC reserves the right to transfer such proposals to the TRS. In that case, applicants will be required to resubmit the proposals under the TRS in the coming exercise and follow the related application requirements.

Assessment of Proposals

9. The criteria for assessing proposals are grouped under the following four primary "filters":

  • academic excellence, impact and relevance of the proposals;
  • credentials of the project teams;
  • clear strategy; and
  • governance structure of the proposed projects.

10. Each of the four "filters" carries the same weight. Details are described in the template and the assessment criteria in Annexes C and D.

11. Among the evaluation criteria, considerable emphasis will be placed on both the prospects of a proposed AoE attaining international excellence and its relevance to the social and economic development of Hong Kong in the long run.

12. The RGC will take cognizance of the funding records and experience of the PC and Co-PIs in coordinating large-scale research projects.

Shortlisting Results

13. An implementation timetable is in Annex E. Universities will be informed of the shortlisting results and invited to submit full proposals in June 2018. The funding decision will be announced in around December 2018.

Enquiries

14. For enquiries concerning the content of this call circular, application procedures or assistance in completing the preliminary proposal, applicants should contact the research offices of their own university, who will seek clarification from the UGC Secretariat where necessary

15. The guidelines for the handling of information and personal data contained in the applications are available on the RGC website http://www.ugc.edu.hk/doc/eng/rgc/form/GRF2.pdf.

Code of Conduct

16. The RGC is fully committed to the principle of honesty, integrity and fair play in the conduct of its business. All applications should comply with the RGC Code of Conduct which is available on the RGC website http://www.ugc.edu.hk/doc/eng/rgc/code_of_conduct.pdf.

RGC
November 2017

 

Annex A

Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme 2018/19 (Eighth Round)

General Points to Applicants

(a) Preliminary proposals are called to improve the efficiency of both proposal preparation and peer reviewing process.
(b) The Research Grants Council (RGC) encourages collaboration amongst universities / disciplines with the view that complex problems and high impact projects would often require participation of talents from different organisations / disciplines. The formation of research team would best be completed at the beginning of the project though new talents may join the team at various stages of the investigation when needed.
(c) The RGC encourages evidence-based research and that data collected in RGC funded projects should be made available to other researchers in a timely manner.
(d) It would be best to involve stakeholders in all phases of the project, from steering of the research direction at the beginning to transferring the results to the target stakeholders of the society.
(e) The proposal should include a knowledge dissemination plan to communicate the project outcomes to not only the research community but also other stakeholders such as the general public, relevant industrial sectors and policy makers.
(f) The project should have a plan for the training of future research talents and a plan to transfer relevant research results to benefit education such as degree programs, course work, etc.
(g) The maximum duration of a project should be eight years, with a tapered funding arrangement for the second four-year period (second phase) of which the funding should not exceed 50% of the first four-year period (first phase). Initially, funding for four years will be provided, with a major review before the end of the fourth year that will result in a decision on whether or not funding will continue to be granted for another four years or for a lesser period. The project team could submit a proposal approaching the end of the project to continue the research initiative or bring the research efforts to a more advanced phase.
(h) The total approved budget for a funded project comprises (i) direct project cost; (ii) on-costs to be provided directly to university's management to cover the overhead expenditure of the project (the on-cost rate for the AoE projects funded in 2018/19 will be 27% of the direct project cost); and (iii) annual allowance of the Project Coordinator1 (PC) to release / partly release the PC from normal teaching and administration duties to enable the PC to focus his / her efforts on the project (the current rate of annual allowance for the PC is $0.318 million per year).
(i) The ceiling of direct project cost per project to be awarded by the RGC is $60 million ($40 million for the first phase and $20 million for the second phase). Proposals exceeding the direct project cost limit may be submitted if there are exceptional reasons and justifications. There is no funding floor for the projects. Within the direct project cost limit, projects of different scale can apply. With reference to the past exercises, the typical funding per project is in the range of $20 million to $90 million, inclusive of on-costs and PC allowance.
(j) Coordinating universities should commit at the application stage that they would contribute 50% of the total equipment cost (irrespective of the number of items), in monetary terms, for a funded project if the total equipment cost of the project is at $2 million or above. This matching requirement applies to the direct cost of the equipment item(s).
(k) Coordinating universities should commit at the application stage that they would contribute 10% of the total approved budget, in monetary terms, for the first phase of a funded project. This matching requirement applies to the direct project cost (excluding the total equipment cost of the project if the total equipment cost of the project is at $2 million or above), on-costs and PC allowance for the first phase funding only. Matching of the direct project cost, on-costs and PC allowance for the second phase is not mandatory.
(l) Universities should also provide "in kind" contribution (e.g. research infrastructure, staff time for research, etc.) throughout the project period. Each proposal should include a budget with breakdown of funds requested from the RGC and matching funding from university(ies) / other funding sources as indicated in the template. The budget for the first phase should also be separated from that of the second phase.
(m) To ensure that the PCs of major projects will spend reasonable time on project management, a PC of major projects (i.e. projects funded under the AoE Scheme and the Theme-based Research Scheme) should hold no more than two on-going projects at the same time. The PCs and coordinating universities should commit at the application stage that if the project is funded, the PC would spend sufficient time on the project throughout the project period. The length of time spent should be commensurate with the PC allowance for a funded project to release / partly release the PC from normal teaching and administration duties to focus efforts on the research project.
(n) To enhance project monitoring, the PC of each funded project should set up an external advisory board upon commencement of the project. The coordinating university of each funded project should submit an audited financial statement for the concerned AoE project within six months from the date of project completion / termination.
(o) PCs of funded projects are required to include in the completion reports URL links to the university's repository or the publishers' websites so that the public can have access to the manuscripts or journal articles (though the public may be required to subscribe to the publishers' websites). They are also encouraged to include in the completion reports the data repositories where research data of their projects can be accessed and shared.
(p) As an initiative to highlight the impact of the AoE Scheme on research and societal development in Hong Kong and worldwide, coordinating universities should commit at the application stage that if the project is funded, they would provide a video clip on the research project to publicise the project's research achievements within three months upon satisfactory rating of completion report. The video should be bilingual (e.g. English narration with Chinese subtitles or vice-versa), about three minutes' long and in a format supported by YouTube. It will be vetted by the relevant Monitoring and Assessment Panel. PCs of completed projects are also encouraged to upload the video clips onto their universities' own websites or video channels.

1 An annual allowance of up to a maximum of the two-month average salary of a Chair Professor will be provided to each funded project to release / partly release the PC from his / her normal teaching and administration duties to focus his / her efforts on the research project. There is no need for the PC to apply and the allowance will be disbursed to respective coordinating universities.

 

Annex B

Matching Funding for Projects under the
Areas of Excellence Scheme 2018/19 (Eighth Round)

Operational Arrangement


I. Submission of preliminary proposals

  • When submitting the preliminary proposal, the project team should indicate in the table the total direct project cost proposed, on-costs and PC allowance. The breakdown of the proposed budget and the required matching should also be indicated.

  • The university should commit under the "University's Endorsement" section of the preliminary proposal form that the university will contribute 50% of the total equipment cost of the project if the total equipment cost of the project is at $2 million or above, and 10% of the total approved budget (excluding the total equipment cost of the project if the total equipment cost of the project is at $2 million or above) for the first phase of a funded project.


    II. Submission of full proposals

  • When submitting the full proposal, the project team should indicate in the table of "Sources of Funding" the cash-flow of the total direct project cost proposed, the cash-flow of direct project cost to be funded by the RGC (maximum $60 million, $40 million for the first phase and $20 million for the second phase), and the cash-flow of the direct project cost to be funded by university under the matching requirement(s). If the total equipment cost of the project is at $2 million or above, the cash-flow for equipment item(s) should be stated separately. The project team is also required to indicate in the table the amount of on-costs and PC allowance to be funded by the RGC and by university under the matching requirement(s).

  • The university should re-state the commitment on the university matching fund for the equipment items (if the total equipment cost of the project is at $2 million or above) and the total approved budget for a funded project in the "University's Endorsement and Declaration of Research Ethics / Safety" section of the full proposal form.


    III. Announcement of funding results

  • Upon approval of a project, the RGC will announce the total approved budget for a funded project and the RGC grants to be awarded for each funded project.


    IV. Monitoring and Assessment of Funded Project

  • When submitting the progress reports / review reports / audited financial statement / completion report, the project team should apportion the expenditure from different funding sources (i.e. RGC, university and other sources, if any).


    V. Return of Unspent Project Funds

  • Upon project completion or termination, the unspent RGC funds should be returned to the RGC in accordance with the Procedural Guidelines to Universities and Project Teams on Projects Funded in 2018/19 (Eighth Round).


    Annex D

    Areas of Excellence Scheme 2018/19 (Eighth Round)
    Assessment Criteria

    Filter 1: Does the proposal qualify as an Area of Excellence?

    (1a) Does the proposal contain any element which has achieved, or has a reasonable prospect of achieving, an international standard of excellence as classified by the Project Coordinator? Is the breath and impact of the concerned field(s) / proposed areas well defined?

    (1b) Is the proposal structured and focused in a way that it would have a high potential to create a significant impact within the designated Area?

    (1c) Does it have potential relevance to the future social or economic development of Hong Kong, especially in areas unique to Hong Kong or where Hong Kong enjoys a comparative advantage?

    • Reference should also be made to the importance of such Area in a macro scale, e.g. economic, technological or social importance in the next decade in the global context.

    Filter 2: Do the applicants have good enough credentials?

    (2a) Are the team members considered to be of the necessary stature by their peers in the field?

    • This applies in particular to the Project Coordinator and Co-Principal Investigator(s).

    (2b) Is the proposal built on existing strengths and achievements, rather than starting new ventures? If the proposal contains new ventures, does the project team have members of good enough credentials that would allow successful delivery of such new ventures?

    • Judgement should be based on relative achievement compared with other groups in the same area, rather than absolute number of publications, number of participants, etc.

    (2c) Does the team have the potential for greater impact and higher value-added potential through the application of any additional public funding awarded by the RGC?

    • Do the team members reinforce and/or complement each other? Is there clear synergy and therefore a multiplier effect?
    • Is the team clearly superior to all other teams in the same area amongst the local institutions?

    Filter 3: Does the proposal have a clear strategy?

    (3a) Does the proposal have a clear mission statement?

    (3b) Is there coherence in terms of integrated and focused programme of research, research training and education?

    (3c) Will it develop critical mass and take full advantage of any potential synergies and existing networks (both local and international)?

    (3d) Does the proposal have the potential for knowledge transfer and attracting private / corporate funding?  If there is potential for knowledge transfer, does the project team have the track record of entering into such arrangements?

    Filter 4: Is there a sound structure to become an Area of Excellence?

    (4a) Does the project team have a sound system of governance?

    (4b) Are there milestones and deliverables structured in a reasonable and achievable manner, based on the proposed timeline and resources?

    (4c) Does it have good prospects of sustainability beyond the funding period?


    Annex E

    Research Grants Council

    Areas of Excellence Scheme 2018/19 (Eighth Round)
    Implementation Timetable

    Timing
    (tentative)
    Event
    November 2017 The Research Grants Council (RGC) invites preliminary proposals from universities
    4 January 2018 (5:00 pm) Deadline for universities to submit preliminary proposals to the RGC
    February – May 2018 Review of preliminary proposals by the RGC
    June 2018 The RGC to finalise the shortlist
    late June 2018 Universities to be informed of shortlisted proposals and invited to submit full proposals
    August 2018 Deadline for universities to submit full proposals
    August – October 2018 Peer Review of full proposals by Selection Panel and external reviewers
    mid November 2018 Universities to be informed of the project teams invited for interview
    December 2018 Selection Panel to conduct interviews and evaluate the full proposals, and the RGC to make funding decisions on the advice of the Selection Panel
    late December 2018 The RGC to announce funding results