Research Grants Council Meeting in June 2018

Results of Proposal Evaluation

Funding Scheme Results Announcement of Results
Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) Five proposals amounting to some $206 million1 were funded. Letter to Heads of Universities dated 10 July 2018
Early Career Scheme (ECS) 153 proposals amounting to $86.7 million were funded.

Letter to Heads of Universities dated 29 June 2018

General Research Fund (GRF) 989 proposals amounting to $592.2 million were funded.
Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Scheme (HSSPFS) Seven proposals amounting to $4.5 million were funded.
1 The amount includes $180 million funded by the RGC and some $26 million matched by the universities concerned.

Research funding schemes

Theme-based Research Scheme

The Steering Committee on Research Themes and Topics under the RGC conducted a review on the research themes and grand challenge topics for the TRS earlier this year. After consulting the UGC-funded universities, the RGC recommended adding three new grand challenge topics, namely "Food Production and Food Security", "Financial Technologies (FinTech) and Regulatory Technologies (RegTech)" and "Artificial Intelligence" and modifying some existing topics. The proposed changes had been approved by the Government and would be implemented starting from the TRS 2019/20 (Ninth Round).

Early Career Scheme

Out of the 381 ECS applications received, 153 projects were approved amounting to $86.7 million (including $6.6 million for educational activities). The success rate was 40% and the average funding per project was $0.57 million. Among the 153 approved projects, three projects were rated "outstanding". The Principal Investigators (PIs) of these three outstanding projects would receive "The Early Career Award 2018/19" and also additional funding for engaging in educational activities. The RGC will hold an award presentation ceremony for these awardees and the winners of the Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowships in October 2018.

General Research Fund

In the 2018/19 GRF exercise, the RGC approved a total of 989 proposals amounting to about $592.2 million. The overall success rate increased slightly from 33% last year to 34% this year, while the funding amount per project decreased slightly from $0.62 million last year to $0.60 million this year.

Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Scheme

RGC launched the Prestigious Fellowship Scheme to award outstanding academics in the Humanities and Social Sciences disciplines. Seven proposals amounting to $4.5 million were approved. The overall success rate was 32%. The average funding amount per project was $0.65 million.

Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme

The RGC has considered a number of issues and improvement measures relating to the Fellowship Scheme, including the progress of the Ninth Round exercise; the reservation of research postgraduate places for the Tenth Round and subsequent exercises; the nomination quotas for the Tenth Round exercise as well as the enhancement measures of the Scheme. The Secretariat has issued a letter on 22 June 2018 to update Heads of Universities on these issues.

Joint Research Schemes

The RGC renewed the collaboration agreement with the European Union to cover the 2018-2020 programme of the Horizon 2020. The collaboration scheme would be renamed as "EU-Hong Kong Research and Innovation Cooperation Co-funding Mechanism by the RGC" starting from the 2018/19 exercise.

Lifting of temporary saving measure

The rate of investment return of the Research Endowment Fund (REF) rebounded from 2.8% in 2017 to 4.6% in 2018 and the forecast rate for 2019 to 2022 would be in the range of 3.7% – 4.9% per annum. The RGC noted that on the assumption that the temporary saving measure of funding Earmarked Research Grants (ERG) projects at 90% would be lifted and the ERG budget would be maintained at 2017/18 level (i.e. $891 million), the deficit of the ERG pool in 2018/19 would be reduced from the previous estimate of $395 million to a more manageable $168 million.

The RGC also noted the recommendations in the interim report of the Task Force on Review of Research Policy and Funding (TFRPF), among others, to inject substantial new money into the REF to make up the shortfall due to the reduction in the annual rate of return and to rationalise the use of different pots of REF for more effective and flexible deployment of funding resources.

In view of the above, the RGC agreed to lift the temporary saving measure of funding ERG research projects at 90% in the 2018/19 exercise and to maintain the 2018/19 ERG budget at 2017/18 level, i.e. $891 million.

Revised declaration requirements in the application forms of RGC funding schemes

Revision to item on declaration of similar/related projects/proposals

At present, the Principal Investigator (PI) of individual research funding schemes or the Project Coordinator (PC) of group research funding schemes is required to provide information on completed projects, on-going projects, terminated projects, unsuccessful proposals or withdrawn projects, proposals pending funding approval and research projects/proposals similar/related to the application in the section of "Declaration of Similar or Related Proposals & Grant Record" of the application form. The main purposes for applicants to provide such information were to ensure that no duplicated funding would be given to the same or substantially similar research project and to provide a good reference for the reviewers to assess the PI's/PC's capability in conducting the proposal. In handling the alleged misconduct cases on "non-disclosure of similar/related projects/proposals" over the past few years, the three Disciplinary Committees (DCs) observed that the applicants might not have good understanding of the requirement of this item. The RGC had reviewed the declaration requirements and, on the advice of the three DCs, endorsed the following revised wording for the item so as to provide clearer guidance to applicants:

    "any related research work that is being/has been conducted in relation to the proposal, including but not limited to data collection, preliminary research, working papers, publications (such as journal papers, conference papers and books, etc.), presentations, media interviews and other submitted proposals, etc. If "yes", please provide the details (such as the title of the projects and/or papers/publications, or a brief description of the preliminary research work, etc.) whether or not such work was part of a funded project; and provide clarifications that distinguish that related research work from the work requested to be funded through this proposal.

    Any researcher who fails to disclose any related research work that is being/has been conducted in relation to the proposal will be subject to disciplinary action."

Removal of items on declaration of terminated/withdrawn projects/unsuccessful proposals in the past five years

The RGC also agreed to streamline the declaration requirements by removing the items of terminated projects, unsuccessful proposals/withdrawn projects from the declaration list.

Addition of a new declaration requirement - agreement of team members to participate in the research project

To avoid any miscommunication between the applicant and his/her team members regarding their participation in a proposal, the following new declaration requirement would be included in the application form, including the preliminary proposal for group research funding schemes:

    "The PI/PC confirms that the Co-PIs/Co-Is listed in the proposal have explicitly agreed to serve in the project team and a copy of the proposal/preliminary proposal has been provided to each of the Co-PIs/Co-Is. The PI/PC will provide documentary proof on the collaboration upon the request of the RGC/Secretariat."

The above new arrangements would be implemented starting from the 2019/20 exercise.

Visit to The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Members of the RGC, Subject Panels and Committees visited The Chinese University of Hong Kong on 14 June. The RGC was grateful to The Chinese University of Hong Kong for their warm hospitality and the interesting programs arranged for the visit. The RGC's observations and feedback will be separately sent to The Chinese University of Hong Kong. The RGC will next visit the Hong Kong Baptist University in June 2019.

RGC Review

The Review of the RGC (Phase II) focuses on operational issues of the RGC. The Working Group on the Review of the RGC (Phase II) held two meetings in April and June 2018 and endorsed the consultation plan for the Phase II review. Earlier in the year, the consultant of the Phase II review conducted interviews, focus group meetings and questionnaire surveys to collect views of the stakeholders, including Heads of Universities/Institutions, front-line researchers, RGC council/committee/panel members, external reviewers, research students and research administrators.

The Phase II review would also take into account relevant recommendations of the Task Force TFRPF. Amongst other recommendations, the TFRPF had recommended that the RGC Phase II Review should include technical aspects such as time/commitment of Principal Investigators, quality of assessment, monitoring processes and project renewal. The Phase II review is expected to complete by mid-2019.

Interim Report on Review of Research Policy and Funding

At the invitation of the Chief Executive as announced in her Policy Address in October 2017, the TFRPF was set up under the aegis of the UGC to take a holistic review on the existing research support strategy and the level and allocation mechanism of research funding for the higher education sector in Hong Kong.

Having studied the prevailing research landscape in Hong Kong and making reference to the experience of the Mainland and jurisdictions overseas, the TFRPF has consolidated its review findings and preliminary recommendations in a Review Report in September 2018.

The recommendations include increasing research funding; setting up a Research Matching Grant Scheme to boost private research and development (R&D) expenditure and donations; introducing three fellowship schemes to support the development of research talents; incentivising cross-institutional/cross-disciplinary collaborations; and strengthening the liaison among research funding bodies.

RGC Members considered the review comprehensive and thorough, and supported the recommendations in general. It is expected that, upon implementation of the recommendations, more funding from both the Government and the private sector would be made available to the research sector, hence enhancing the R&D landscape of Hong Kong to meet future challenges. In addition, more employment and development opportunities would be opened up to local research talents. RGC Members also acknowledged the importance of enhancing communication among local universities/institutions, industries and funding bodies.

Researcher identification

The RGC was invited by the TFRPF in November 2017 to consider maintaining an updated research profile for 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 RGC also noted that one of the recommendations of the TFRPF was to adopt a common researcher identity, e.g. ORCID iDs, for grant applications. As ORCID iD had already been in use in the local academia and was popular in the academia and overseas funding agencies, the RGC agreed to make ORCID iDs a new requirement of grant applications in all research funding schemes in the 2019/20 cycle.