Research in Hong Kong has been given a new push with a 20 percent increase in funding for the RGC over the next two years and new initiatives which include stipends for outstanding undergraduate students aspiring to undertake research as part of gaining a well-rounded education.
The University Grants Committee (UGC) recently allocated an additional HK$100 million to the RGC to support research in each of the next two years: 2006/07 and 2007/08. It increases the total RGC annual budget to HK$605.9 million.
Research is more than just advancing knowledge, it's also about training students to have inquisitive minds - Prof Chin
Prof Roland Chin, who became RGC chairman in July last year, said: “It’s a nice increase, especially when you consider the recent reduction of budgets all around Hong Kong. It’s a welcome sign and an indication of society’s support for research. All academics I’ve talked to, of course, welcome the good news.”
The additional funds will start to be awarded in June this year when the RGC selects Hong Kong’s best research proposals.
“In the selection, we go for quality not quantity,” said Prof Chin. “We don’t play the numbers game by funding more and more proposals each year. We’ll try to better fund high quality projects. This will give researchers more flexibility; maybe the research can be of longer duration or researchers can train additional research students to work on the project.”
Most of the additional funding will go to approved proposals submitted under RGC’s competitive bidding schemes: the Competitive Earmarked Research Grant (CERG) for individual researchers and Central Allocation funding catering for group research bids and equipment bids from Hong Kong’s research institutions.
Credit for the increased funding, said Prof Chin, should go to the UGC. “This is not additional new money given by the government. The UGC recognises that research is important; it recognises that the funding level in Hong Kong is minimal for the high quality research we are doing, and that we should have more funding to get Hong Kong to its goal of being a knowledge-based society.
“Hopefully, this HK$100 million a year increase will continue after 2008, and to a higher level,” he said.
Among new initiatives recently announced by the RGC is a stipend for talented undergraduates selected to participate in research projects. In a pilot scheme, HK$2 million has been set aside to provide stipends of up to HK$2,500 a month for 10 months starting from the 2007/08 CERG exercise. The HK$2 million will fund at least about 80 undergraduates in the first year. “We are launching the scheme as a pilot,” said Prof Chin.
“We’ll review the scheme after the first year and, if there is a large demand, the RGC will consider putting additional money into it. Research is more than just advancing knowledge and solving difficult problems, it also has to do with the training of students to have inquisitive minds, investigative skills and analytical abilities. Many undergraduates in Hong Kong would love the opportunity to work in a research laboratory alongside world renowned professors we have here.
“The scheme will give undergraduates more diversified outside classroom experience as well as to integrate research and education. It will also benefit professors who will be able to select and groom bright students for their research programmes.”
Another initiative announced by the RGC is the setting up of a humanities sub-panel to consider research proposals in humanities subjects. The panel will begin work for the 2007/08 CERG exercise.
Said Prof Chin: “In people’s minds, research is traditionally science and engineering and test tubes and computers; research in law, the fine arts or literature doesn’t fit into the traditional mould. Researchers in these areas need time off to visit historical archives, for example.
“There is also a perception, or rather a misconception, that our proposal review process is not sympathetic with this kind of research. So the new humanities sub-panel will take care of the needs of these researchers with more flexible considerations for the employment of relief teachers to free up their staff time.”
Public policy research
Already started is the implementation of the government’s additional funding of HK$20 million a year for three years for public policy research. In the first round, 12 proposals from 73 applications were funded. Results of a second round which attracted 66 proposals will be announced in June.
“The research is in terms of methodology, creative ideas, new perspectives of old problems such as the gender, ageing and fertility problems, disparity of rich and poor, the environment, energy use, and the influx of mainland Chinese to Hong Kong,” said Prof Chin.
“We are all very pleased that the quality of the first round projects is very high. Output will have a high impact because it addresses fundamental problems and can also be applied to public policy issues in Hong Kong,” he said.