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UGC releases Research Grants Council Review (Phase I) Report

The University Grants Committee (UGC) today (September 21) released the full Report of the Task Force on the Review of the Research Grants Council (RGC) (Phase I) (the Report).

Phase I of the Review examined macro issues such as the portfolio balance of the research funding schemes administered by the RGC, the RGC's structure and good practices in overseas funding agencies. The UGC set up a Task Force in July 2016 to oversee the implementation of the Phase I Review. An external consultant was commissioned to assist the Task Force. Views of the researchers and RGC Council/Committee/Panel Members were collected via questionnaire surveys. An online consultation for other stakeholders including Legislative Council Members, related government bodies, other research funders in Hong Kong and private research users was held in parallel. The consultant also invited views from the Heads of Universities of the UGC sector and held 18 face-to-face focus group meetings with various stakeholders.

The Task Force compiled and submitted the Report to the UGC and the Council accepted the Report in May 2017. The Report concludes that the current system has worked well and kept reasonable pace with comparable jurisdictions. The system of research support in Hong Kong has reached a good level of maturity and has many strengths and achievements. There have been effective responses to a substantial increase in research activity in Hong Kong within the limitations of available resources, and the RGC has established a system that stands international comparison. The current funding mix allows for capacity building by recognising the needs of researchers at different career stages. The RGC, with support from the UGC and other bodies, has developed robust and reliable processes.

The Report has also identified the major challenges faced by the RGC, including its communication and engagement strategy and issues relating to grant processes. The Chairman of the UGC, Mr Carlson Tong, said, "The UGC accepted the findings and recommendations of the Report. The low level of overall research funding in Hong Kong, at only 0.7 per cent of GDP, was one of the major issues identified in the review. In addition, the annual rate of return from the Research Endowment Fund has dropped significantly over the last few years from over 6 per cent in 2009 to some 3 per cent in 2016. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to the Government for additional resources for research and development. To this end, I am glad that the Chief Executive has recognised the need to strengthen funding support for research in Hong Kong."

Mr Tong said that the issues identified involved the UGC, the RGC and the research community at large and all parties of the system were expected to work jointly to tackle the challenges. The UGC had sought the views of the RGC and Heads of Universities/Institutions on the report in the past few months, and formulated an action plan to follow up the recommendations. In response to the Report's observation that the RGC should review the broader societal impact of the research it funds, a new competitive funding scheme called Research Impact Fund will be launched on a pilot basis in early 2018 to encourage more impactful research and foster more collaborative efforts with stakeholders beyond academia.

"The UGC will hold a symposium on November 14, 2017 to engage front-line researchers. We look forward to exchanging views with our front-line colleagues on a continual basis," Mr Tong continued.

Phase II of the Review would examine "less macro" issues such as quality of assessment and monitoring processes, means of communication among members of the panels/committees, timeline of funding schemes, arrangement guarding against conflict of interests in the assessment process and mechanism for handling alleged misconduct cases. A working group would be set up under the RGC to oversee the implementation of the Phase II Review.

The Report, including the Task Force's recommendations, is available at the UGC website: www.ugc.edu.hk. A list of the key follow up actions is at Annex.