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Frequently Asked Questions in respect of Call for Preliminary Proposals

Theme-based Research Scheme
Frequently Asked Questions in respect of
Call for Preliminary Proposals


1. Who can be the Project Coordinator?

Those who are eligible to apply for research funding from the Research Grants Council (RGC) could apply. Please refer to the link on the RGC's website: <http://www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/ugc/faq/q302.htm>.

2. Can a Project Coordinator of an on-going major project (i.e. project funded under the Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) or the Areas of Excellence Scheme) apply again as a Project Coordinator/Co-Principal Investigator?

To ensure that the Project Coordinators of major projects will spend reasonable time on project management, a Project Coordinator should hold no more than two on-going major projects at the same time. Non-compliance of the stipulated requirements may lead to disqualification of applications. However, there is no restriction on a Project Coordinator of major projects to apply as Co-Principal Investigator. Nevertheless the applicant would have to convince the TRS Selection Panel that he/she could deploy sufficient attention to the projects under his/her charge.

3. Is there any restriction on the Co-Principal Investigators? Can they be overseas (including Mainland) researchers or non-academics?

Though there is no restriction on the Co-Principal Investigators, the RGC would like to see the funding benefiting local research community. Hence, the proposal should justify why local researchers could not take up the respective role(s).

It should be noted that TRS project grant should primarily be used in undertaking research work in Hong Kong by the Project Coordinators and their teams in order to train and groom research talents in Hong Kong. It would be legitimate for the Project Coordinators to subcontract out a small part of the research work (regardless of geographic locations) only if specified conditions are fulfilled. For subcontracting services or research work to be conducted outside Hong Kong, the RGC's approval is required. The RGC would deal with the matter on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the merits and justification given by the Project Coordinators and whether the specified conditions have been fulfilled. The detailed guidelines on outsourcing of research work are provided in the "Disbursement, Accounting and Monitoring Arrangements for Funding Schemes Administered by the Research Grants Council". Also, the grant provided by the RGC should only be used to cover project expenditure which would not otherwise be separately incurred, and the funding policy adopted by the RGC governing the remuneration of research support staff and purchase of equipment stipulated in "Disbursement, Accounting and Monitoring Arrangements for Funding Scheme Administered by the Research Grant Council" should apply.

4. Can a Project Coordinator be involved as Co-Principal Investigator in another proposal?

Yes, but again, he/she needs to justify that he/she could deploy sufficient attention to each of the proposals.

5. Can a Project Coordinator submit more than one proposal?

No, each applicant could only submit one application as Project Coordinator. He/She could however be involved in other proposal(s) as Co-Principal Investigator.

6. Can I submit a proposal with a single Project Coordinator and no Co-Principal Investigator?

Yes, but collaboration across universities and discipline is encouraged. Besides, as the scheme intends to tackle complex problems, we expect that the problems would be better solved by a pool of talents instead of a single Project Coordinator.

7. As RGC is also calling for CRF and GRF applications, can I apply for TRS grants using the same proposal?

It is the responsibility of applicants (all the Project Coordinator, Co-Principal Investigators and Co-Investigators) to ensure that no duplicate funding from all sources will be sought for the same/similar research project. Breach of this rule or failure to declare similarity of proposals may result in disqualification of the application and debarring from applying future UGC/RGC grants. Hence, once it is known that he/she has been awarded funding from other sources, the applicant, in the capacity of Project Coordinator/Co-Principal Investigator/Co-Investigator, should decide whether he/she will decline funding from other sources or withdraw his/her application under TRS.

The Project Coordinator, Co-Principal Investigators and Co-Investigators will be asked to make declaration on submission of same/similar research when invited to submit the full proposals. It is the RGC to decide whether two proposals/completed projects are similar or related. The judgment of the RGC is final.

8. Is matching funding required?

Yes. Starting from the TRS 2016/17 (Sixth Round), 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. The ratio of 90% (RGC) : 10% (university) applies to direct project cost, on-costs and annual allowance of the Project Coordinator. The detailed operational arrangements for the preliminary proposal, assessment and approval stages are set out in the call for preliminary proposals.

9. Is there any ceiling or quota on the number of proposals to be submitted by or involving each university?

There is no ceiling or quota on the number of proposals to be submitted by or involving each university.

10. Can TRS funding be used for initiating a Centre?

Funding may be awarded if the proposal could justify itself that it is relevant to the current call and merits award of funding. Nonetheless, any proposal submitted is expected to comprise the research project element.

11. Is there any upper or lower limit of the amount of funding applied for each proposal?

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; and (iii) annual allowance of the Project Coordinator. 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 annual allowance of the Project Coordinator.

The proposal should justify the proposed amount and why the application was made under TRS rather than other schemes.

12. Is there any relief arrangement for the Project Coordinator?

Starting from the TRS 2012/13 (Second Round), 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 Project Coordinator from his/her normal teaching and administration duties to focus his/her efforts on the research project. There is no need for the Project Coordinator to apply and the allowance will be disbursed to the respective coordinating university.

Starting from the TRS 2016/17 (Sixth Round), universities are required to commit at the application stage that the Project Coordinator will spend sufficient time on the project throughout the project period. The length of time spent should be commensurate with the annual allowance of the Project Coordinator for a funded project.

13. Can I bid for Research Postgraduate places?

No, there is no provision of Research Postgraduate place under the TRS.

14. Some researches may need a longer duration (more than five years) to see the desired result/impact. Can I still submit the proposal?

The maximum duration of the projects under the current call is five years. The project team may submit a proposal towards the end of the project with a view to continuing the research initiative or bringing the research efforts to a more advanced phase. The proposal itself should justify the funding applied for and will be peer-reviewed like any other proposal.

15. Will the funding allocation to each theme or each topic be the same?

There is no preset proportioning of the funding. However, some research works are by nature more costly, e.g. use of expensive equipment and such proposals may need more money. The RGC does not impose any disciplinary priorities or preference on the proposals.

16. It seems that most topics under the Theme "Promoting Good Health" are on the 'treatment' rather than 'preventive' side. Should the proposal follow the direction of the theme or the topic?

The theme aims to promote health and prevent disease of special importance in Hong Kong and to the well-being of society at the regional and global levels. To this end, it will be necessary to understand the relevant diseases from the treatment as well as preventive side. Related aspects, including the social perspectives, may also form part of the proposal.

17. We have the topics "Water Pollution and Water Treatment" and "Air Quality". Does "Air Quality" cover air pollution and air treatment?

The proposals under the topic should focus on the challenge to improve the air quality of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region. If an applicant wishes to submit a proposal related to air pollution and/or air treatment, he/she should be able to use his/her expertise to decide if the proposed work is relevant to the topic/theme.

18. What are the assessment criteria?

The proposals are primarily assessed on academic excellence and whether they fall within the chosen themes. The general criteria (as appearing on the invitation for preliminary proposals) are:

  • Qualification as world-leading by international standards
  • Impact to Hong Kong
  • Credentials of the project team
  • Existence of a clear strategy
  • Sound structure for an excellent research project
  • Please refer to the respective call documents for more details.

    19. What is the start date of the project?

    The project should start within six months of the announcement of funding result.

    20. Will there be interviews?

    There will not be interviews in respect of the preliminary proposals but in the full proposal stage, project teams of further shortlisted proposals may be invited for interview.

    21. When and how will the themes / topic be revised?

    The research themes are decided by the Education Bureau (EDB) upon advice of its Steering Committee for Research Themes. In late 2014, the EDB conducted a review on the themes and decided that on top of the three existing themes, a new theme "Advancing Emerging Research and Innovations Important to Hong Kong" be introduced starting from the 2016/17 exercise.

    For the grand challenge topics, a round of consultation with the academic community was conducted in early 2015 to modify the existing topics and identify the new topics under all four themes. The RGC will review the topics regularly and make modifications as and when necessary. Input from the academic community will be invited when there is a need to change the existing topics or add new topics.