Research Grants Council Meeting in December 2021

Results of Proposal Evaluation

Funding Scheme Results Announcement of Results
Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) 32 proposals amounting to $193 million (exclusive of on-cost) were funded, including 25 Collaborative Research Project Grant (CRPG) proposals and seven Collaborative Research Equipment Grant (CREG) proposals. Two CRPG proposals were supported for one-year exploratory funding. Letter to Heads of Universities dated 4 January 2022
Second Round One-off CRF Coronavirus Disease and Novel Infectious Disease Research Exercise 16 proposals amounting to $92.3 million (exclusive of on-costs) were funded, including three proposals supported for one-year exploratory funding.
Research Impact Fund (RIF) 12 proposals amounting to $75 million (exclusive of on-costs) were funded. Letter to Heads of Universities dated 29 December 2021
Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) 21 proposals were shortlisted for submission of full proposals. Letter to Research Vice Presidents dated 24 December 2021
Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme 9 proposals were shortlisted for submission of full proposals.

Research Funding Schemes

Collaborative Research Fund

Two new initiatives under CRF will be implemented on a three year pilot basis from 2022/23 onwards, including (a) a Young Collaborative Research Grant (YCRG) with an annual budget of $50 million to support early stage researchers in gaining experience of managing and leading collaborative research projects; and (b) the increase of CREG budget from $50 million to $100 million. Details of these two initiatives will be elaborated under the section on “Budget” below.

The overall budget for CRF 2022/23 would hence be increased to $280 million, including $130 million under CRPG (including $9.6 million dedicated for exercising the “Exploratory Option”), $100 million under CREG and $50 million under YCRG. The existing arrangement allowing the CRF Selection Panel to flexibly redeploy the funding allocation between CRPG and CREG will be extended to cover YCRG.

Research Impact Fund

The RIF 2021/22 exercise was concluded successfully. RGC noted that the 12 approved proposals demonstrated not only strong academic merits but also high potential research impact and were innovative. Members were glad to see both STEM and non-STEM proposals with great quality being funded in the exercise. The RIF 2022/23 exercise will be launched in late January 2022 and the budget will remain at $75 million.

Areas of Excellence Scheme and Theme-based Research Scheme

RGC reviewed the “right of reply” arrangement. In view of the positive response from researchers and Selection Panel Members, RGC decided to continue the existing arrangement of “right of reply” in the 2022/23 and onward exercises of AoE Scheme and TRS. Comments of External Reviewers (ERs) (without grades or ratings) will be released to the Project Coordinators (PCs) of the full proposals in April / May and the PCs will be allowed to respond in one week. The responses from the PCs, together with the assessments from the ERs, will be submitted to Selection Panel Members for evaluation.

The TRS Public Symposium 2022 is scheduled for 11 December 2022 (Sunday) for project teams of projects funded in the Sixth and Seventh Round exercises to communicate and share amongst research community and other stakeholders the achievements of TRS projects. RGC will invite The University of Hong Kong to be the coordinating university of the symposium. The Secretariat will contact the Research Offices for the detailed arrangements.

Review on Themes and Grand Challenge Topics of the Theme-based Research Scheme

The Steering Committee on Research Themes and Topics (SCRTT) commenced the second round of review on research themes and grand challenge topics of TRS in September 2021. RGC endorsed SCRTT’s recommendations to suitably incorporate elements of the National 14th Five-Year Plan to research themes and grand challenges topics of TRS. The Secretariat will contact Research Offices to invite written comments from researchers on the proposed changes.

Budget for Various Funding Schemes Funded by Research Endowment Fund in 2022/23

New Initiatives to be Funded by Research Endowment Fund (REF) in 2022/23

Given the healthy financial position of REF, RGC approved an additional $450 million to fund the following four new initiatives in 2022/23:

  1. Increasing the budget for the General Research Fund (GRF)

    After the $20-billion injection into REF by the Government in 2019, the budget for GRF has increased from $600 million in 2018/19 to $788 million in 2021/22 (more than 30%). As there have been calls from the local research community for increasing the grant size per funded GRF project in order to catch up with the continued rise in research cost, RGC endorsed the proposal for increasing the budget for GRF by $200 million (approximately 25%) to $988 million in 2022/23.

  2. Increasing the budget for CREG

    In response to the call from universities for additional budget for equipment proposals, RGC will increase the budget for CREG from $50 million in 2021/22 to $100 million in 2022/23. The budget will be subject to review in three years with regard to the available resources from REF.

  3. Pilot exercise to support collaboration of young researchers

    The universities have called for a pilot exercise to support early-stage researchers in gaining experience of managing and leading collaborative research projects. Although these early-stage researchers are eligible to submit applications under the annual CRF, there were comments from the universities that some “young” researchers found it difficult in obtaining CRF grants with competition from more experienced researchers. By introducing a designated collaborative research grant, it is hoped that the gap can be filled and the “young” researchers will be better prepared in bidding larger collaborative research funding in the next stage of their career. RGC endorsed to launch YCRG under CRF with an annual budget of $50 million on a three-year pilot basis for group research projects led by early-stage researchers.

  4. Launching a one-off funding for topical research

    The one-off COVID-19 and / or Novel Infectious Diseases Research Exercise launched under the 2020/21 and 2021/22 CRF exercises and the 2021/22 TRS exercise were considered a success by the universities. Following this experience, RGC endorsed to earmark $150 million to launch a one-off funding in 2022/23 to support universities’ research in specific areas which can help Hong Kong overcome imminent challenges and tap fast-evolving opportunities. RGC also endorsed to form a new steering committee to work out the funding topic(s) and implementation details for RGC’s consideration in June 2022.

The funding requirements for the four new initiatives are summarized in the table below:

Funding Initiatives Amount
($ million)
Increasing the budget for GRF 200
Increasing the budget for CREG 50
Launching YCRG under CRF 50
Launching a one-off funding for topical research 150
Total: 450

Figure in ( ) denotes the percentage change compared to the 2021/22 budget

Budget for 2022/23

After taking into account the budgetary requirements for the new initiatives above, an indicative broad allocation for the various funding schemes funded by REF in 2022/23 was approved by RGC as follows:

Funding Schemes Budget
($ million)
(A) Funding Schemes under the Earmarked Research Grants  
     (1) GRF 988.3
     (2) Early Career Scheme 115.3
     (3) CRF 280.0
     (4) Joint Research Schemes 103.2[1]
     (5) Humanities and Social Sciences Prestigious Fellowship Scheme 10.0
     (6) Postgraduate Students Conference / Seminar Grants 0.8
(B) TRS 230.0
(C) AoE Scheme 50.0[2]
(D) Apportionable budget for collaborative schemes 50.0[3]
(E) Exploratory funding for TRS and AoE Scheme 30.0
(F) Funding Schemes for Self-financing Degree-awarding Institutions 100.0
(G) RIF 75.0
(H) Tuition Waiver for Local Research Postgraduate Students 90.0
(I) One-Off Funding for Topical Research 150.0
Total: 2,272.6

The allocation above reflects broad indicative figures and may be subject to further adjustments.

Progress of Research Matching Grant Scheme and RGC Research Fellowship Schemes

After nine processing cycles of the Research Matching Grant Scheme (RMGS), one university reached the matching "ceiling" of $500 million, while six other universities and two institutions attained the matching "floor" of $50 million. The remaining balance available for matching stood at about $1.19 billion. RMGS will continue accepting applications until the balance of the $3-billion provision is fully exhausted. During the period beyond its original 3-year lifespan, the remaining balance of the commitment (including those reserved as a guaranteed minimum under the matching "floor") will be open for application by all participating universities / institutions so long as they have not reached the matching "ceiling". The "ceiling" will continue to be applicable throughout the operation period and no further applications from any university / institution will be processed beyond the threshold of $500 million.

As for the third nomination exercise (2022/23) of the RGC Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme (PDFS), RGC Research Fellow Scheme (RFS) and RGC Senior Research Fellow Scheme (SRFS), a total of 88, 36 and 32 nominations were received from the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities respectively. Vetting of nominations is in progress and assessment schedule would commence in early 2022. Results of PDFS award will be available in April 2022 while those for RFS and SRFS will be announced in July 2022.

RGC was pleased to note that various RFS and SRFS awardees had been featured in a series of advertorials on several local papers (in print as well as on their online platforms), and that a short video on each SRFS awardee would be available at RGC website by early 2022 for public viewing.

The Collaboration with the National Academy of Medicine of the United States for Healthy Longevity Global Competition

Regarding the collaboration with the National Academy of Medicine for Healthy Longevity Global Competition, RGC endorsed the implementation details of the Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards (Hong Kong) 2022 (HLCA (HK) 2022) in December 2021.

HLCA (HK) 2022 aims to reward bold, new ideas from any discipline to improve the physical, mental, or social well-being for people as they age. In particular, it seeks ideas that will extend the human health span through innovations in disease prevention, biomarkers, molecular pathways, mobility, functionality, social connectedness, and more. Up to 10 awards, maximum at US$50,000 and travel subsidy of HK$180,000 will be given out. The call for applications for HLCA (HK) 2022 is expected to be issued in January 2022 and results will be announced in September / October 2022.

Proposed Expansion of the Joint Research Scheme with the National Natural Science Foundation of China

RGC and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) agreed to establish a new collaborative scheme to support ten larger scale research projects annually on a pilot basis for three years; and to increase the number of individual projects supported for funding under the existing NSFC / RGC Joint Research Scheme (JRS) from 30 to 40 each year.

RGC approved the operational framework of the new collaborative scheme. In gist, an applicant will only be allowed to submit one application in the capacity of either the Principal Investigator under the existing NSFC / RGC JRS or the PC under the new collaborative scheme in the same exercise. An institutional quota of five will be set on the Hong Kong side per exercise. A one-stage application and proposal evaluation process will be adopted. Each proposal will be reviewed by at least three non-local ERs and evaluated by three readers from the existing JRS Panels without conflicts of interest (CoIs). The pool of the JRS Panel Members will be enriched by appointing more local academics without CoIs and non-local Chinese speaking academics.

As regards the budget and grant size, NSFC will provide up to RMB3 million per project to the Mainland team and RGC will provide up to an amount equivalent to RMB3 million (approximately HK$3.6 million) per project to the Hong Kong team. To support ten projects annually, RGC reserved a budget of HK$36 million for the new collaborative scheme in 2022/23.

The call for proposals for the NSFC / RGC JRS 2022/23 exercise had been issued on 20 December 2021, in which the launch of the new collaborative scheme was announced. The first call for proposals under the new collaborative scheme would be issued in end January 2022.

Handling of Research Misconduct Cases by the RGC

RGC completed a review on the penalty level of plagiarism and self-plagiarism in the “Guidelines on Handling of Research Misconduct Cases”. Based on the findings of the review, RGC considered that the current penalty levels should not be changed in the absence of strong justification. Nevertheless, in order not to unnecessarily magnify the effect of penalty on researchers, RGC decided to refine the description of debarment period (i.e. from debarment for one to five “years” to debarment for one to five “funding exercises / rounds”) such that the debarment period would not be unintentionally extended due to the close of application of some research funding schemes falling shortly before the expiry of penalty.

Continuation of Collaboration with the European Union

RGC approved the continuation of the collaboration with the European Union (EU) covering the Work Programme 2021-2027 under Horizon Europe and the document on details of the co-funding mechanism. Subject to confirmation by the EU, the first call for the 2022/23 exercise of “EU - Hong Kong Research and Innovation Cooperation Co-funding Mechanism by the RGC” under Horizon Europe would be launched in April 2022.

Additional Reporting Requirements in the Common Data Collection Format and Completion Report Forms of RGC’s Funding Schemes

RGC noted that the list of additional reporting requirements had been confirmed with the universities in October 2021. Changes to the “Disbursement, Accounting and Monitoring Arrangements for Funding Schemes Administered by RGC” will be introduced to enable the collection of open-access-related information of peer-reviewed journal publications arising directly from the projects for which completion reports are due for submission in February 2022 or after.

Enhancements on the RGC’s Engagement and Communication Initiatives

As part of the initiatives for enhancing communication and engagement with the research community, a thematic website to showcase the awards and fellowships granted under the UGC and RGC is being set up. The website is scheduled for launching in early 2022.

An e-mail subscription function was added to RGC website in September 2021. Subscribers will be informed of any new contents on a regular basis by emails issued by the Secretariat.

To strengthen engagement and communication with the local research community, two meetings were held between the Chair of RGC and Vice-Presidents (VPs) (Research) of the UGC-funded universities to keep VPs updated of RGC’s overall strategic direction and policies, as well as to exchange views on various matters concerned by the research community. VPs welcomed such meetings, and look forward to more future meetings to strengthen communication between RGC and the universities.

RGC has been collaborating with Hong Kong Central Library and Hong Kong Science Museum in organising public lectures. These lectures, which covered a wide range of topics, aimed at arousing public interest in the research subjects, local research development and introducing the work of local researchers. Eight such lectures were organised between October 2021 to December 2021 and were well-received. The programme for 2022 is under planning.


[1] Including (i) an additional $12.5 million for the existing joint research scheme (JRS) with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) to support ten more individual projects annually; (ii) $36 million to launch a new collaborative scheme jointly with NSFC; and (iii) $9 million to support the continuation of the collaboration with the European Union under Horizon Europe.
[2] In addition to funding from REF, UGC allocated $100 million per year (or $300 million for three years) for AoE Scheme in 2022-25 triennium from Central Allocation Vote.
[3] An annual apportionable budget of $50 million would be allocated across AoE Scheme, CRF and TRS.