Research Grants Council Meeting in December 2017

Results of Proposal Evaluation

Funding Scheme Results Announcement of Results
Collaborative Research Fund 18 proposals amounting to $110 million (exclusive of on-costs) were funded. Letter to Heads of Universities dated 22 December 2017.
State Natural Science Award Six applications were recommended. For Education Bureau's consideration.
Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) 15 proposals were shortlisted for submission of full proposals. Letter to Research Vice Presidents dated 22 December 2017.

Research Funding Schemes

Theme-based Research Scheme

The Research Grants Council (RGC) decided to maintain the budget for TRS 2018/19 (Eighth Round) at $180 million. On the invitation of the Government, the RGC has set up a new Steering Committee on Research Themes and Topics (SCRTT). The SCRTT will advise the RGC on the selection of themes and grand challenge topics for the TRS. Based on the advice of the SCRTT, the RGC will make its recommendations to the Government for approval. The SCRTT convened its first meeting in January 2018. Universities will be consulted on the proposed additions and modifications of grand challenge topics in the first half of 2018.

Joint Research Schemes

The RGC decided to extend the collaboration with the European Commission to cover the 2018-2020 programme of the Horizon 2020. The RGC also approved the continuation of the collaboration with the French National Research Agency. On the other hand, the collaboration with the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) ended in late 2016 as the Scottish counterpart showed no interest in continuation. The RGC approved the cessation of the SFC/RGC Joint Research Scheme.

Research Impact Fund

The RGC noted that a symposium was held on 14 November 2017 to consult academics and universities on the Research Impact Fund and collect their views on the draft operational framework. Heads of Universities were also invited to provide written comments on the draft framework separately. The RGC endorsed the proposed operational framework, which had taken into account the views collected. In response to the concern of stakeholders, the mandatory matching ratio was reduced from 50%/50% to 70% (RGC)/30% (university/partner(s)). The University Grants Committee (UGC) approved the proposed framework and the first call for proposal is expected to be issued in February 2018.

New Studentships Scheme for Local Students enrolled in UGC-funded Research Postgraduate Programme

The RGC welcomed the Education Bureau's proposal for an injection of $3 billion into the Research Endowment Fund for the purpose of providing studentships for local students enrolled in UGC-funded Research Postgraduate programmes and endorsed the proposed implementation framework of the new studentships scheme. The Secretariat will form a working group with universities to formulate the implementation details of the new scheme. Subject to the funding approval from the Finance Committee of Legislative Council, the scheme will be implemented starting from 2018/19 academic year.

Statistics on Research Outputs

The Director of Audit's Report on "Funding of Academic Research Projects by RGC" recommended that the RGC should collate adequate management information on research output and disclose the information on its website. At present, Principal Investigators/Project Coordinators are required to report their research outputs in the completion reports. That said, there is currently no summary statistical information on research outputs of projects funded by the RGC on the RGC website for public information. The RGC decided to collect statistics of research outputs by category (e.g. patents, journal publications, conference papers, etc.) through the completion report of projects/conferences funded under RGC funding schemes starting from reports due for submission in January 2018 or after. The output statistics would be reported to the RGC in June and December each year and uploaded onto the RGC website for public information.

Research Conduct and Project Management

Grant Records in Funding Applications

The RGC noted that some applicants had failed to provide a complete disclosure of their submission/grant record, including the disclosure of similar/related proposals/projects, in the applications or update the RGC on the grant(s) awarded as required. Universities should remind their colleagues to pay attention to the requirements stated in the application forms and the related guidance notes to ensure compliance of the relevant clauses.

Research Output listed in Progress/Completion Reports

The RGC also noted that there was in general a tendency for some Principal Investigators/Project Coordinators to include some irrelevant publications in the progress/completion reports. Universities should remind their colleagues to be mindful of the reporting requirement. Inclusion of irrelevant publications in the progress/completion reports would not be conducive to the report quality and might have adverse effect on the rating of the reports concerned.

RGC Review

The RGC noted that over 200 participants including universities management and front-line researchers attended the Symposium on Review of the RGC (Phase I) on 14 November 2017. The comments/suggestions raised by the participants would be addressed by the measures in the action plan for following up the Phase I recommendations. As part of the effort to enhance the transparency of the RGC's strategies and processes, a communication and engagement policy for the RGC has been endorsed by UGC. The Chairman of the RGC will also be meeting the Vice-Presidents (VPs) (Research) of universities after each RGC meeting. The first meeting will be held on 24 January 2018. Taking this opportunity, VPs (Research) have been invited to share their progress of enhancing the communication mechanism for disseminating information from the RGC to front-line researchers, and offer suggestions on new engagement activities.

The Phase II Review would focus on "less macro" issues such as quality of assessment, monitoring process, means of communication among members of the panels/committees, timeline of funding schemes and arrangement guarding against conflict of interests in the assessment process etc. It would also consider the findings of the Task Force on Review of Research Policy and Funding led by Prof Tsui Lap-chee. The RGC decided to set up the Working Group on the Review of the RGC (Phase II) to oversee the implementation of the review. The Working Group would comprise local and non-local experts of different disciplines and an external consultant would be engaged to assist in the review. The Phase II Review would commence in early 2018 and is expected to complete by mid-2019. The RGC would regularly report the progress of the review to UGC.

Researcher Identification

The Task Force led by Prof Tsui Lap-chee saw the need to maintain an updated research profile of each researcher in a central data registry as a starting point for a common database for all funding agencies and universities to enhance collaboration. The data registry will facilitate the identification of researchers with expertise in specific areas. The RGC agreed in principle that in the future, all applicants must have a valid online researcher ID to apply for RGC grants. The earliest date that researcher identifier could be implemented would be the next General Research Fund/Early Career Scheme exercise which would accept applications in September 2018. The Secretariat will prepare a more detailed proposal to the RGC in June 2018.