Research Grants Council Meeting in June 2019

Results of Proposal Evaluation

Funding Scheme Results Announcement of Results
Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) Five proposals amounting to $224 million1 were funded. Letter to Heads of Universities dated 10 July 2019
Early Career Scheme (ECS) 166 proposals amounting to $95.1 million were funded.

Letter to Heads of Universities dated 28 June 2019

General Research Fund (GRF) 1006 proposals amounting to $654.9 million were funded.
Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Scheme (HSSPFS) Nine proposals amounting to $4.5 million were funded.
Joint Laboratory Funding Scheme (JLFS) 11 proposals amounting to $30 million were funded. Letter to Heads of Universities dated 19 June 2019
1 The amount includes $200 million funded by the RGC and some $24 million matched by the universities concerned.

Research funding schemes

Theme-based Research Scheme

A one-time trial of "right of reply" was introduced in the TRS 2019/20 (Ninth Round) exercise pursuant to a recommendation of the Working Group on the Review of the RGC (Phase II). The RGC has decided to continue the trial arrangements in the full proposal stage of the TRS 2020/21 (Tenth Round) exercise and extend the trial arrangements to the next Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme exercise (i.e. AoE Scheme 2020/21 (Ninth Round) exercise) to collect more data for further consideration.

Early Career Scheme

Out of the 400 ECS applications received, 166 projects were approved, amounting to $95.1 million. The success rate was 42% and the average funding per project was $0.57 million. Among the 166 approved projects, seven projects were rated "outstanding" and also had their education plans rated "satisfactory". The Principal Investigators (PIs) of these seven outstanding projects would receive "The Early Career Award 2019/20" 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 November 2019.

General Research Fund

In the 2019/20 GRF exercise, the RGC approved a total of 1 006 proposals amounting to about $654.9 million. The overall success rate was 34%, same as last year, while the funding amount per project increased slightly from $0.60 million last year to $0.65 million this year.

Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Scheme

RGC launched the HSSPFS to award outstanding academics in the HSS disciplines. Nine proposals amounting to $4.5 million were approved. The overall success rate was 35%. The average funding amount per project was $0.50 million.

Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme

The RGC had considered a number of issues and improvement measures relating to the Fellowship Scheme, including the progress of the Tenth Round exercise; the reservation of research postgraduate places for the Eleventh Round and subsequent exercises; the nomination quotas for the Eleventh Round exercise as well as the recommendations made by the Selection Panels for future exercises.

Apportionment and Rationalisation of the Research Endowment Fund

Following the approval of the $20-billion injection cum rationalisation of the Research Endowment Fund (REF) by the Finance Committee (FC) of the Legislative Council (LegCo) at its meeting on 28 June 2019, arrangement with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) for the placement of the $20 billion was being made to generate investment income and to boost the REF disbursement budget for the purposes of sustaining the level of research funding; providing funding for the Research Impact Fund (RIF) to render continued funding support for impactful research; and providing additional funding for the RGC's collaborative research funding schemes to encourage cross-institutional/cross-disciplinary collaborations. A budgetary proposal covering the above purposes was considered and endorsed by the University Grants Committee (UGC) and the RGC at their respective meetings in May and June 2019. The budgetary proposal was shared with the Heads of Universities on 28 June 2019.

Considering that the investment return will only be generated in a year's time after the injection, the RGC has agreed to enhance the budget of different research funding schemes, generally by 10%, for the 2019/20 academic year to meet the strong expectation of the sectors. This will be a one-off enhancement to tie in with the impending injection. RGC will consider further interim measures to boost research spending with existing resources in December 2019.

Implementation of the Research Matching Grant Scheme

Universities and local self-financing degree-awarding institutions concerned have responded favourably to the earlier call for comments on the draft operation guide of the Research Matching Grant Scheme (RMGS), which aims to allow the sector to diversify research funding sources and incentivise more contribution and collaboration from the private sector. Having considered the views and suggestions received, the fine-tuned operation guide incorporated as appropriate with comments received was endorsed by the UGC and the RGC in May and June 2019 respectively. Following the approval by the FC at its meeting on 28 June 2019 on the $3-billion funding proposal, the novel RMGS has commenced accepting application with effect from 1 August 2019 for a period of three years.

Implementation of the New RGC Fellowship Schemes

Having considered the views and suggestions from the universities upon consultation, the operation guide of the new fellowship schemes was fine-tuned. As the funding of $190 million for the schemes has been secured and the revised operation guide has been endorsed by the UGC and RGC in May and June 2019 respectively, the RGC will introduce the three new fellowship schemes in the 2019/20 academic year with debut call for nominations commencing September 2019. The three new fellowship schemes, namely Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme (PDFS), RGC Research Fellow Scheme (RFS) and RGC Senior Research Fellow Scheme (SRFS), will be run on a regular basis thereafter.

All three schemes will remain competitive in nature and the quota for PDFS is 50 while that for RFS and SRFS is ten each. It is expected that the new fellowship schemes, when launched, will provide further support and recognition to the research staff force and assist universities to attract and retain talent.

Review of Collaborative Research Funding Schemes

With the aim of incentivising universities to conduct more collaborative research, the RGC established the Collaborative Research Review Working Group (CRWG) in June 2019 to review its three collaborative research funding schemes, namely the Collaborative Research Fund (CRF), TRS and AoE. The CRWG met for the first time on 14 June 2019 and will meet again in December 2019 and March 2020. It will consult universities and frontline researchers in mid 2020 on its recommendations and targets to conclude the review by end 2020.

Re-organisation of Disciplinary Committees

The RGC decided to combine the Disciplinary Committee (DC) (Investigation) and the DC (Penalty) to streamline and expedite the process of handling research misconduct cases. The role and responsibilities of the DC (Penalty) are subsumed to the new DC (Investigation). The new DC (Investigation) is now responsible for recommending to the RGC whether the allegations should be substantiated and, if substantiated, the level of penalty imposed. The RGC also decided to include the misconduct of "self-plagiarism" in the "Guidelines on Handling of Research Misconduct Cases". The guidelines have been revised and uploaded to the RGC's website.

Visit to The Hong Kong Baptist University

Members of the RGC, Subject Panels and Committees visited Hong Kong Baptist University on 13 June 2019. The RGC was grateful to Hong Kong Baptist University for their warm hospitality and the interesting programs arranged for the visit. The RGC's observations and feedback have been separately sent to Hong Kong Baptist University. The university for the next visit would be The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in June 2020.

RGC Review

Having considered the consultant's findings, the Working Group on the Review of the RGC (Phase II) (WGRGC(II)) had made preliminary recommendations on the operation of the RGC in its interim report, covering the aims and objectives of funding schemes, assessment processes, time commitment of PIs, forms and documents, communication and engagement, open access policy, conflicts of interest and academic misconduct. The interim report of the WGRGC(II) was endorsed by the UGC in May 2019. The RGC released the interim report for consultation with different stakeholders, including Heads of Universities/Institutions, RGC committee/panel members, researchers, etc., in early July 2019 and organized a symposium on 15 July 2019 to facilitate face-to-face exchange of views with front-line researchers. Universities/institutions were requested to disseminate the letter to all researchers and research administrators and encourage their participation in the consultation exercise. Consultation and engagement activities took place from July to mid-August 2019. The final review report would be submitted to the UGC for approval in October 2019 and would be published shortly afterwards.

Provision of "Pathways to Impact Statement" in the Applications for RGC Funding Schemes

Based on the successful experience of the RIF, the "Pathways to Impact Statement" was an effective way to incentivise the applicants to articulate how to secure impact, what they proposed to do and how they proposed to start gathering evidence on impact from the outset. It could also foster a culture of actively thinking about impact as an integral part of research. The successful implementation of the first round of RIF showed that the "Pathways to Impact" arrangement was ready to be extended to other funding schemes. The RGC decided that starting from the 2020/21 exercise, applicants of RGC's research funding schemes (except travel/conference/exchange grants and Joint Research Schemes) were required to provide a "Pathways to Impact Statement" in the proposals.

Assessment Guidelines for Collaborative Research Fund

The RGC approved the assessment guidelines for CRF. The guidelines have been uploaded onto the RGC website for public information. Continual refinements to the guidelines would be made taking into account the latest relevant decisions of the RGC and CRF Committee, and in response to stakeholder's concerns, where necessary.