Research Grants Council Collaborative Research Fund 2021/22 Call Circular

Applications for Allocations from the Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) 2021/22 and
Second Round One-off CRF Coronavirus Disease and Novel Infectious Disease Research Exercise
(Second Round One-off CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Exercise)

This is to invite submission of preliminary proposals for allocations from the (i) CRF 2021/22 and (ii) Second Round One-off CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Exercise, and to provide details of the procedures to be followed.

Budget

CRF 2021/22

In CRF 2021/22, a budget of $180 million (exclusive of on-cost) has been reserved, including $130 million for group research proposals under the “Collaborative Research Project Grant (CRPG)” ($9.6 million dedicated for exercising the “Exploratory Option”) and $50 million for equipment proposals under the “Collaborative Research Equipment Grant (CREG)”. This represents an increase of $34 million from the $146 million in the previous round. The CRF Committee would exercise flexibility in redeployment of funding allocation between CRPG and CREG after supporting all meritorious proposals in the respective grants to ensure the quality of the proposals supported by CRF.

Second Round One-off CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Exercise

The University Grants Committee (UGC) and Research Grants Council (RGC) have allocated another $100 million (exclusive of on-costs) for launching the Second Round One-off CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Exercise to support collaborative research projects related to COVID‑19 and NID.

For both exercises, the project teams should pursue interdisciplinary, collaborative goals which would not be possible by working on the project’s individual components.  The net amount of funding requested from the RGC (excluding matching funding from university and funds obtained from other sources) should range from $2 million to $10 million per project.


Types of Grants under CRF 2021/22

There are two types of grants under the CRF 2021/22:

Collaborative Research Project Grant

The main objective of the Collaborative Research Project Grant is to encourage research groups in UGC-funded universities to engage in collaborative research across disciplines and across universities with a view to enhancing the research output of universities in terms of the level of attainment, quantity, dimensions and speed. It provides funding for staff, equipment and general expenses related to the supported projects. In assessing proposals, the RGC puts emphasis on capacity building and the potential of a proposal to develop into an area of strength. On approval, the project teams should not break the award down into individual components. They should pursue genuine collaborative research.

The selection criteria to be adopted by the RGC for evaluation of Collaborative Research Project Grant proposals are at Annex A.

Project Coordinators (PC) of Collaborative Research Project Grant projects may apply for “renewal” funding. In the 2021/22 exercise, applications for “renewal” funding are invited from group research projects that were funded in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For the projects funded in 2018/19, since most of them will not be completed until June 2022 and, depending on the progress of the research projects, the research teams may choose to defer their “renewal” applications to the next exercise.

To qualify for “renewal” funding, the research teams must demonstrate that remarkable results have been achieved in their current research and there is a good argument and prospect for further research work to continue in the relevant area. A “renewal” proposal should be an extension of the current project led by the same PC and should not constitute any major overlap with research work supported by other UGC/RGC grants. A “renewal” proposal should have its own goal and a new or extended research objective. A PC should only submit one single proposal in the 2021/22 exercise, irrespective if it is a new or “renewal” application.

For any “renewal” proposal to be funded in the 2021/22 exercise, the “renewal” project must start upon the completion of the current one before the end of the academic year 2021/22 (i.e. 30 June 2022).  Prior approval of the RGC for variation to the stipulated schedule must be sought in case a research team has difficulty in adhering to the schedule, though approval may only be given in very exceptional circumstances.  All funded “renewal” proposals are subject to the same monitoring and accounting requirements as applicable to other newly funded projects under the scheme.

Collaborative Research Equipment Grant

The main objectives of the Collaborative Research Equipment Grant are to:

  1. enable the acquisition of major research facilities or equipment, including major library acquisitions for research, which cannot otherwise be afforded by one university and which can be used for collaborative research; and
  2. assist universities in “leveraging” support from equipment suppliers with a view to stretching the value of the RGC’s funds further than could normally be possible by making small allocations in connection with individual projects; and
  3. provide funding for group user fee (for users from RGC funded collaborative research projects) to access major user facilities (e.g. to pay for the access/use of some existing core facilities/equipment instead of procuring new ones)[1].

The selection criteria to be adopted by the RGC for evaluation of Collaborative Research Equipment Grant proposals are at Annex B.


Types of Grants under the Second Round One-off CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Exercise

In respect of the Second Round One-off CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Exercise, only collaborative group research projects related to COVID‑19 and NID will be funded.  Equipment proposals will not be considered.  Same as the first round exercise launched in May 2020, research in any facet and discipline can be considered under this second round exercise so long as it is related to COVID-19 and NID.  In particular, the second round exercise calls on innovative ideas to address the impact of COVID-19 and NID, including solutions that can help mitigate the health, social, economic, environmental and other impact as well as implications for the community under the “new normal” when we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The selection criteria to be adopted by the RGC for evaluation of proposals under the Second Round One-off CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Exercise are at Annex C.


[1] The requirement of 50% matching funding from participating universities still applies.


Matters Requiring Attention

May I draw applicants’ attention to the following matters:

  1. Increased and dedicated budget for Collaborative Research Project Grant

    In CRF 2021/22, $130 million is dedicated for group research proposals under the CRPG, including $9.6 million for the CRF Committee to exercise the “Exploratory Option” to invest into high-risk (i.e. not fulfilling all assessment criteria especially on readiness of preliminary data and the team’s credentials) yet potentially ground-breaking and highly-original research.

    The “Exploratory Option” is discretionary.  Applicants do not need to specify the exploratory nature of their proposals.   At the central board stage, the assessment panels can exercise the “Exploratory Option” for projects that are not funded due to the lack of preliminary supporting data and/or inadequate past experience as reflected in their teams’ credentials and are deemed to be potentially ground-breaking, i.e. demonstrating high level of originality and/or innovation in transforming research approaches, standards, theories, and/or methods, engaging novel disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives, as well as having sufficient potentials in yielding results.

  2. Relaxation of eligibility requirements

    In view of the increasing collaboration between the UGC-funded universities and the Mainland as well as overseas jurisdictions, the RGC has approved the relaxation of staff eligibility rules for RGC research funding schemes whereby a PC who is/will be seconded to conduct research in a university or a research institute/body/agency in the Mainland/overseas jurisdictions while retaining his/her full-time appointment and position with his/her parent university and is still on the payroll of the parent university, should still be eligible to apply for RGC project grant if the PC will continue to carry out the RGC project and supervise research students and post-doctoral fellows during the secondment.  The revised eligibility rules would take effect from the 2021/22 exercise onwards.  PCs are however reminded that funded RGC projects should continue to be carried out in Hong Kong.

  3. Emphasis on Collaboration

    Details of collaboration and added value to the project by collaboration will need to be fully demonstrated in the application and the mid-term review for release of the second instalment of funding.

  4. Pathways to Impact Statement

    Same as last year, applicants are required to submit “Pathways to Impact Statement” in their applications.  The CRF Committee would like to remind project teams that impact does not necessarily confine to change of government policies.  Project teams are advised to consider a wider spectrum of impact that research can bring about, for example, the demonstrable contributions, beneficial effects, valuable changes or advantages that research qualitatively brings to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life; and that are beyond the academia. 


Disbursement Arrangement

Universities are required to confirm that satisfactory arrangements will be worked out among the universities concerned for the ownership and management of the equipment/facilities, if funded, and for meeting the recurrent costs.  The CRF will not cover any recurrent expenditure (including maintenance) that may have to be borne by the university in consequence.

The funding approved under the CRF will be released to the coordinating universities in two instalments.  For Collaborative Research Project Grant projects, the second instalment will be released subject to satisfactory progress of previous work reported in the mid-term progress report or the related annual progress report depending on project duration.  Please refer to the guidelines on “Disbursement, Accounting and Monitoring Arrangement for Funding Schemes Administered by the Research Grants Council” for details. 


Submission of Application

Preliminary proposals for Collaborative Research Project Grant and Renewal Funding should be submitted on CRF(GR&R)1P and those for Collaborative Research Equipment Grant should be submitted on CRF(E)1P through the RGC Electronic System to the UGC Secretariat by 22 February 2021.  The application forms in pdf format are also available on the RGC website (http://www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/rgc/) for downloading.  In addition to electronic submission, universities are required to provide two hard copies and one soft copy of the proposals.  For the soft copy, please save all files in one CD, with the file names follow that of the project reference number. 

For “renewal” funding, an up-to-date progress report on the current research project should be submitted together with the application form.

In line with the prevailing arrangement for CRF and other RGC schemes, an applicant may only submit one proposal as the PC under each of the CRF 2021/22 and the Second Round One-off CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Exercise.


Code of Conduct and Enquiries

The RGC is fully committed to the principle of honesty, integrity and fair play in the conduct of its business.  All applicants should comply with the RGC Code of Conduct, which is available on the RGC website (https://www.ugc.edu.hk/doc/eng/rgc/guidelines/code/code_of_conduct.pdf).  If your staff have any enquiries about the application procedures or other aspects of this circular, please call Mr Cyprian Chan, Assistant Secretary-General (Research) 2 (Tel: 2844 9916 or email: [email protected]) or Miss Wendy Chan, Senior Research Administrator (Research Assessment Exercise) 1 (Tel: 3793 4146 or email: [email protected]).

 

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Annex A

Selection Criteria for Collaborative Research Project Grant Proposals

The RGC takes into account the following factors in assessing the fundability of a proposal:

  1. the academic merits;
  2.  

  3. the long term goal of the proposal and its potential to develop into an area of strength;
  4.  

  5. the opportunities for effective synergism among the participating researchers, research groups and universities/institutions; and
  6.  

  7. the viability of the proposal, particularly in terms of its project management. The project team’s ability to put in place an effective governance structure to monitor collaborating work and to ensure prudent deployment of resources would be important considerations.

 

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Annex B

Selection Criteria for Collaborative Research Equipment Grant Proposals

The RGC takes into account the following factors in assessing the fundability of a proposal:

  1. the merit of the proposal, its contribution to academic/professional development and potential for application, and benefit to tertiary institutions in particular and Hong Kong in general;
  2.  

  3. the scope for collaborative research/joint use, and the degree of such usage;
  4.  

  5. feasibility in implementation;
  6.  

  7. any university’s support, including that of the sponsoring/ collaborating universities/institutions;
  8.  

  9. the prospect of external funding;
  10.  

  11. maximum value for money; and
  12.  

  13. the availability of similar facilities/library acquisitions elsewhere in Hong Kong.

 

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Annex C

Selection Criteria for Second Round One-of CRF COVID-19 and NID Research Proposals

The RGC takes into account the following factors in assessing the fundability of a proposal:

  1. research in any facet and discipline can be considered so long as it is related to COVID-19 and NID. In particular, the second round exercise calls on innovative ideas to address the impact of COVID-19 and NID, including solutions that can help mitigate the health, social, economic, environmental and other impact as well as implications for the community under the “new normal” when we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic;
  2.  

  3. priority will be given to COVID-19 research;
  4.  

  5. where other things being equal, research projects that may be completed earlier will be given priority;
  6.  

  7. the academic merits;
  8.  

  9. the long-term goal of the proposal and its potential to develop into an area of strength;
  10.  

  11. the opportunities for effective synergism among the participating researchers, research groups and universities/institutions; and
  12.  

  13. the viability of the proposal, particularly in terms of its project management. The project team's ability to put in place an effective governance structure to monitor collaborating work and to ensure prudent deployment of resources would be important considerations.

 

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