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Call for Preliminary Proposals

Theme-based Research Scheme 2017/18 (Seventh 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 Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) 2017/18 (Seventh Round).

Objectives of the Scheme

2. To reaffirm its continued support to research and development, the Government set up a Research Endowment Fund (REF) with a one-off grant of $18 billion in 2009. The investment income1 from up to $4 billion will be used to finance research projects on specific themes under the TRS. The objective of this scheme is to focus academic research efforts of the UGC-funded universities on themes of strategic importance to the long-term development of Hong Kong.

1 The funding available for the TRS depends on the investment returns of the REF.

Preliminary Proposals

3. All applications should be made under one of the research themes and one of the grand challenge topics under the respective theme as listed below:

(a) Promoting Good Health
  1. Infectious Diseases
2. Understanding Disease Mechanisms to Improving Health
3. Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
4. Wellness Enhancement
(b) Developing a Sustainable Environment
  1. Water Pollution and Water Treatment
2. Sustainable Built Environment
3. Energy Harvesting, Conversion and Conservation
4. Air Quality
(c) Enhancing Hong Kong's Strategic Position as a Regional and International Business Centre
  1. Hong Kong's Future as an International Financial Centre
2. Promoting Hong Kong's Business through Networking Capability
3. Promoting Hong Kong as a Centre of Excellence for Business Services
4. Innovation and Business Creation
(d) Advancing Emerging Research and Innovations Important to Hong Kong
  1. Big Data
2. Imaging, Robotics and Smart Manufacturing
3. Urban Infrastructure
4. E-learning and Digital Citizenship

4. General information common to the four themes are set out at Annexes A and B. Details about the grand challenge topics are set out in Annex C.

5. The template on Call for Preliminary Proposals is at Annex D while an implementation timetable is at Annex E.

6. All applications must be submitted to the UGC Secretariat through the Research Office of the coordinating university by 5:00 pm on 23 September 2016. 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 off Annex D.

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

Code of Conduct

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

RGC
July 2016

 

Annex A

Theme-based Research Scheme 2017/18 (Seventh Round)

General Points Applicable to the Four Themes

(a) Preliminary proposals are called to improve the efficiency of both the proposal preparation process and the peer reviewing process.
(b) The Research Grants Council (RGC) encourages collaboration amongst different universities and multiple disciplines with the view that complex problems and high impact projects would often require the participation of talents from multiple disciplines and different organisations. The formation of the complete research team would best be done at the beginning of the project even though it is reasonable to introduce new talents at various stages of the investigation when needed.
(c) The RGC encourages evidence-based research and that data collected using the RGC funds should be made available to other researchers in a timely manner (detailed guidelines to be established, according to practices adopted by different disciplines, and having regard to the need for a longer closure period where patent applications are involved).
(d) It would be best to involve stakeholders in all phases of the project, from steering of the research direction at the beginning, to provide advice, to transfer the results to impact the target sector of the society.
(e) 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 at Annex D will not be affected.
(f) The proposal should 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.
(g) 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.
(h) The maximum duration of a project should be five years, and there will be sunsetting provisions prescribing a review at two years and four years after the start of the project. The project team could submit a proposal approaching the end of the project with a view to continuing the research initiative or bringing the research efforts to a more advanced phase.
(i) 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 overhead expenditure for the project (the on-cost rate for the TRS projects funded in 2017/18 will be 27% of the direct project cost); and (iii) annual allowance of the Project Coordinator (PC1) (the current rate of PC allowance is $0.308 million per year).
(j) The ceiling of direct project cost per project to be awarded by the RGC is $75 million (or $15 million per year for up to five years). Projects with exceptional reasons and justification may be allowed to exceed the $75 million direct project cost limit. There is no funding floor for the projects. Within the $75 million direct project cost limit, projects of different scale are eligible to apply. With reference to the past exercises, the typical funding per project is expected to be in the range of $10 million to $40 million, inclusive of on-costs and PC allowance.
(k) Coordinating universities are required to commit at the application stage that they would contribute 10% of the total approved budget, in real money, for a funded project. Under the matching requirement, the ratio of 90% (RGC) : 10% (university) applies to direct project cost, on-costs and PC allowance.
(l) 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 TRS and the Areas of Excellence Scheme) should hold no more than two on-going projects at the same time. The PCs and coordinating universities are required to 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.
(m) 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 quick and easy access to the manuscripts or journal articles (though the public may be required to subscribe at 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; and
(n) As an initiative to highlight the impact of the TRS on research and societal development in Hong Kong and worldwide, coordinating universities are required to commit at the application stage that if the project is funded, they would provide a video clip on the research project and achievements 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) and lasts for about three minutes, its format should be 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 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

SMatching Funding for Projects under the
Theme-based Research Scheme 2017/18 (Seventh Round)

Operational Arrangement


I. Submission of preliminary proposals

  • The 10% university matching fund of the endorsed amount for an approved project, including direct project cost, on-costs and Project Coordinator (PC) allowance, is stated as a requirement in the Call for Preliminary Proposals.
  • When submitting the preliminary proposal, the project team is required to indicate in the table of "Time scale of the project and budget" the cash-flow of the total direct project cost proposed, on-costs and PC allowance. The breakdown of the proposed budget in the ratio of 90% (RGC) : 10% (university) should also be indicated. The university is also required to commit under the "University's Endorsement" section of the preliminary proposal form that the university will shoulder 10% of the total approved budget for a funded project.


    II. Submission of full proposals

  • When submitting the full proposal, the project team is required to 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 requested from the RGC (maximum $75 million, or $15 million per year up to five years), and the cash-flow of the direct project cost to be funded by university matching fund (the five-year total being 10% of the total direct cost proposed). The project team is also required to indicate in the table the amounts of on-costs and PC allowance requested from the RGC and contributed by university at the ratio of 90% (RGC) : 10% (university).
  • The university is required to re-state the commitment on the 10% university matching fund for 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/review reports, the project team is required to apportion the expenditure from different funding sources (90% from the RGC and 10% from university, and funding from other sources, if any) in the financial statement.

  • V. Return of Unspent Project Fund

  • Upon project completion or termination, the unspent RGC funds should be returned to the RGC.

  • Annex C

    Theme-based Research Scheme 2017/18 (Seventh Round)

    Themes and Topics

    Theme 1 - Promoting Good Health

    This theme aims to promote health and prevent disease of special importance in Hong Kong and to contribute to the well-being of society at the regional and global levels.

    Proposals are sought to address one or more of the following:

    1. Infectious Diseases
    2. Understanding Disease Mechanisms to Improving Health
    3. Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
    4. Wellness Enhancement

    Priority will be given to proposals that develop new knowledge in fundamental mechanisms of disease; solve major applied problems in health; develop, use, and/or evaluate novel innovative technologies; or provide new knowledge on diseases and conditions of special importance to Hong Kong.

    Proposals should give the rationale for the diseases and the approaches selected and how new funding would accelerate discovery or translation that would not be accomplished by current RGC funding mechanisms.

    In areas where Hong Kong has established programs of research, Theme-based support could also be used to establish how to overcome "barriers" in disseminating or translating new discoveries to improving and maintaining individual or population health; building a cadre of future scientists; making the transition to international prominence.

    Topic 1: Infectious Diseases
    Research proposals should focus on infectious diseases which are prevalent in Hong Kong and neighbouring region, or areas that the Hong Kong academic community has a competitive edge. Possible areas include hepatitis viruses; influenza; EBV and nasopharyngeal carcinoma; HIV; drug-resistant pathogens; emerging infectious diseases; novel diagnostics; treatment/drug discovery/traditional Chinese medicine; vaccine and other prevention measures; and psychosocial and cultural determinants of health behaviours relevant to the transmission and prevention of infectious diseases.

    Topic 2: Understanding Disease Mechanisms to Improving Health
    Research proposals should focus on interdisciplinary study of fundamental biology to improving health with special relevance to Hong Kong and the region, including but not limited to Down's syndrome, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, hepatic and lung cancer, neurological diseases and aging. Possible areas include understanding of the molecular and cell biology of these diseases; clinical validation of putative bio-markers; novel therapeutic strategies; drug development; bioinformatics; prediction, prevention and treatment of human disease.

    Topic 3: Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
    Research proposals should focus on the study of stem cells and regenerative medicine that exploit the special competitive advantages of the Hong Kong research environment such as access to embryonic stem cell and cost effective animal facilities. Possible areas include embryonic stem cells; postnatal and adult stem cells; induced pluri-potent stem cells and reprogramming; tissue engineering and the development of novel technologies for the culture, analysis and imaging of stem cells; organ regeneration; disease modelling; and production of therapeutically relevant cell types from stem cells, their validation in animal models and/or clinical trials and associated manufacturing challenges.

    Topic 4: Wellness Enhancement
    Research proposals should focus on interdisciplinary studies that identify and promote modifiable factors associated with good health outcomes in individual Hong Kong/Chinese residents and the populations of Hong Kong and China throughout the lifespan that could transform the field of health promotion globally. Possible areas may include the formulation and testing of bio-psycho-social models of health; the examination of sleep factors and circadian rhythms as determinants of good health; and the behavioural, communication, and economic science that identify and promote healthy life-style, including recreational and sports activities, in a variety of populations (e.g., children, adolescents, pregnant mothers, working adults, care-givers, the aging).


    Theme 2 - Developing a Sustainable Environment

    This theme aims to promote a responsible form of development friendly to our environment. Given the trans-boundary nature of environmental problems, research collaboration with other associated areas is strongly encouraged.

    Under this theme, proposals are sought to address fundamental and applied research issues on one or more of the following four topics:

    1. Water Pollution and Water Treatment
    2. Sustainable Built Environment
    3. Energy Harvesting, Conversion and Conservation
    4. Air Quality

    Priority will be given to proposals that provide novel analytical approaches, develop innovative technologies, provide fresh empirical evidence, science-based simulation and modelling, and which provide practical insights to educate the public and to assist policy decisions by government and industry on issues of importance to Hong Kong, the Pearl River Delta and beyond.

    Topic 1: Water Pollution and Water Treatment
    Proposals should focus on research pertaining to the sustainable use of water resources, enhancement of water quality, chemical characterization and mitigation of pollutants, social and economic impacts of water pollution, innovative technologies on water treatment, identification of the sources and transport mechanisms of the pollutants, and protection of the health and beneficial uses of the aquatic ecosystem in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta.

    Topic 2: Sustainable Built Environment
    Proposals should focus on enhancing the sustainability of the built environment, especially issues relating to the provision of high quality working and living environments, green buildings, and the social, economic and environmental impact of urban development. Sub-topics suggested are integrated building design, building materials, indoor air quality, wind induced vibrations, urban planning in relation to the ventilation, energy consumption, energy generation, etc.

    Topic 3: Energy Harvesting, Conversion and Conservation
    Proposals should focus on multidisciplinary research on photovoltaics, solid-state lighting, energy conversion and storage systems, power grids, and solar, wind and wave energy harvesting. The proposed projects should also aim at creating IP rights and patents to help transform Hong Kong into a knowledge-based economy.

    Topic 4: Air Quality
    Proposals should focus on the challenge to improve the air quality of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta through integrated multidisciplinary research and involvement of stakeholders including the government, business and NGOs. Radically new approaches directed towards monitoring, experimental modelling, mapping, chemical characterization and mitigation of air-borne pollutants to allow the formulation of appropriate policy and strategy of air quality management are encouraged.


    Theme 3 - Enhancing Hong Kong's Strategic Position as a Regional and International Business Centre

    To capitalize on the emerging economic significance of China, it is of paramount importance for Hong Kong to deepen its appreciation of the dynamic development of regional Asian economies so as to enhance its position as an economic hub.

    Under this theme, proposals are sought to address fundamental research issues on one or more of the following four topics:

    1. Hong Kong's Future as an International Financial Centre
    2. Promoting Hong Kong's Business through Networking Capability
    3. Promoting Hong Kong as a Centre of Excellence for Business Services
    4. Innovation and Business Creation

    The success of various business sectors in Hong Kong can be attributed to multiple enabling factors including Hong Kong's global connectivity and strong links with the Mainland; its investments in human resources (including, but not limited to education); and Hong Kong's legal and governance systems. These enablers are considered relevant to all the topics identified under this theme.

    Priority will be given to proposals that provide novel analytical approaches, develop innovative methodologies, offer new theoretical insights, and generate fresh empirical evidence that yield practical insights for policymakers and relevant stakeholders on issues of importance to Hong Kong's economy. Proposals should have strong foundations in theory, and be grounded in the extant research within the relevant fields.

    Topic 1: Hong Kong's Future as an International Financial Centre
    Research proposals should advance analytical, empirical and institutional knowledge that is relevant to enhancing Hong Kong's role as a leading international financial centre. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the economics of financial innovation; the sources, mechanisms and management of global systemic risk; issues relating to market microstructure in Asian financial markets; internationalization of the Renminbi; consequences of the liberalization and global integration of Chinese financial markets; and the economic geography of Hong Kong's strategic location in the Pearl River Delta.

    Topic 2: Promoting Hong Kong's Business through Networking Capability
    Research proposals should advance analytical, empirical and institutional knowledge that is relevant to enhancing Hong Kong's networking capability relating to the flows of goods, services and capital across global markets. Topics of interests include, but are not limited to, the contribution of transport and logistics networks in the Pearl River Delta to Hong Kong's growth and future development; Hong Kong's role as an orchestration point for supply network coordination in emerging economies; the significance of cultural and linguistic factors in expanding business networks; multiculturalism as a business capability; business applications of new domains in social media and crowd sourcing; and the impact of social networks on corporate decisions and strategies.

    Topic 3: Promoting Hong Kong as a Centre of Excellence for Business Services
    Research proposals should advance analytical, empirical and institutional knowledge that is relevant to enhancing Hong Kong's role as a centre of excellence for innovation in business services. Topics include, but are not limited to, mechanisms for inter-organizational learning and innovation; intellectual property rights management; optimization methods for service delivery; extensions to the provision of public and social services; extensions to the cultural and media industries; the cultural and social psychological aspects of employee motivation in service organizations.

    Topic 4: Innovation and Business Creation
    Research proposals should advance analytical, empirical and institutional knowledge that is relevant to enhancing the creation and incubation of new business, as well as the revitalization of existing enterprises. Areas of study include, but are not limited to, technology commercialization; family businesses; business alliances; governance mechanisms and capital allocation in high-growth businesses; growth strategies for small and medium sized enterprises; structure and processes in social enterprises (for-profit entrepreneurs, public-private alliances, and non-governmental organizations); the culture and social psychology of entrepreneurs; application of design thinking; entrepreneurial decision-making; talent development and retention to foster entrepreneurship and innovation; risk-taking and opportunity identification; and corporate entrepreneurship.


    Theme 4 - Advancing Emerging Research and Innovations Important to Hong Kong

    This theme aims at advancing our knowledge and facilitating the development and application of research innovations important to Hong Kong. This will contribute to powering world-class industries and developments at the local, national, regional and global levels, and capitalize on Hong Kong's existing strengths in research and innovation. The theme echoes the great importance the Government attaches to the innovation and technology industries as well as research in humanities and social science.

    Proposals are sought in this round to address one or more of the following (these topics will be reviewed and may be revised in future):

    1. Big Data
    2. Imaging, Robotics and Smart Manufacturing
    3. Urban Infrastructure
    4. E-learning and Digital Citizenship

    The research should impact on the creation, application, and transfer of knowledge in Hong Kong, and possibly the Mainland and the region, and should foster interaction with our neighbours and help Hong Kong researchers leverage their research strengths.

    Priority will be given to proposals that involve inter-institutional and cross-disciplinary collaborations, both basic and applied. Partnering with stakeholders including Government agencies and the industrial sector is encouraged.

    Topic 1: Big Data
    This topic covers computational and analytical approaches suitable for handling very large and potentially heterogeneous data. Activities may range from machine-learning research, development of distributed computational approaches, cloud-enabled implementation, to cross-domain big data analytics. Research proposals should be motivated by applications relevant to Hong Kong, including but not limited to, smart cities, e-learning, data-driven policy-making, health, e-finance, mobile data, and the internet-of-things.

    Topic 2: Imaging, Robotics and Smart Manufacturing
    Research proposals should focus on (1) image acquisition, processing and analysis, and visualization for sub-topics such as, but not limited to, disease detection, sensing and actuation, and real-time 3-dimensional modelling; (2) smart robotic technologies in applications such as, but not limited to, autonomous navigation, bio-manipulation, manufacturing, and services in high-risk environments; and (3) smart manufacturing in technologies such as, but not limited to, bio-printing, medical devices, and complex multi-material composites. Investigations on nanoscale technologies and manufacturing and the social implications of human-machine interactions are also encouraged.

    Topic 3: Urban Infrastructure
    The grand challenge in Urban Infrastructure addresses the research and implementation of the "Smart City", which involves the use of technologies to provide intelligent response to the needs of the city. Proposals should focus on smart buildings, intelligent transportation systems, urban geo-informatics which studies the structure, algorithms, behaviour, and interactions of natural and artificial systems in the urban context, and resilience of infrastructure networks such as water, power, gas, transportation, and communication.

    Topic 4: E-learning and Digital Citizenship
    Research proposals should focus on advancing digital technologies for learning, development of twenty-first century skills, teaching creativity, problem-solving and innovation, social inclusion, equity and the digital divide, life-long learning and policy-implications, and the role of other stakeholders including parents, employers and professional associations. Research is also encouraged on how the provision of digital literacy evolves as labour market demands and education systems change.


    Annex E

    Research Grants Council

    Theme-based Research Scheme 2017/18 (Seventh Round)
    Implementation Timetable

    Timing
    Event
    July 2016 The Research Grants Council (RGC) invites preliminary proposals from universities
    23 September 2016 (5:00 pm) Deadline for universities to submit preliminary proposals to the RGC
    October - December 2016 Review of preliminary proposals by the RGC
    mid December 2016 The RGC to finalise the shortlist
    late December 2016 Universities to be informed of shortlisted proposals and invited to submit full proposals
    late February / early March 2017 Deadline for universities to submit full proposals
    mid March - May 2017 Peer Review of full proposals by Selection Panel and external reviewers
    late May 2017 Universities to be informed of projects invited for interview
    June 2017 Selection Panel to conduct interviews and to evaluate the full proposals, and the RGC to make funding decisions on the advice of the Selection Panel
    July 2017 The RGC to announce funding results