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Research Grants Council Collaborative Research Fund 2020/21 Call Circular

Applications for Allocations from the
Collaborative Research Fund for 2020/21

This is to invite submission of preliminary proposals for allocations from the Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) for 2020/21 and to provide details of the procedures to be followed.


In 2020/21, $146 million (exclusive of on-costs) for the CRF exercise, including a budget of $50 million for equipment proposals under the "Collaborative Research Equipment Grant" and $96 million for group research proposals under the "Collaborative Research Project Grant" has been reserved. This represents an increase of $25 million from the $121 million in the previous round. The project teams should pursue interdisciplinary, collaborative goals which would not be possible by working on the project's individual components in isolation of each other. 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

There are two types of grants under the CRF:

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.

  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.

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

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 B.

Project Coordinators (PC) of Collaborative Research Project Grant projects may apply for "renewal" funding. In the 2020/21 exercise, applications for "renewal" funding are invited from group research projects that were funded in 2016/17 and 2017/18. For the projects funded in 2017/18, since most of them will not be completed until June 2021 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 University Grants Committee/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 2020/21 exercise, irrespective if it is a new or "renewal" application.

For any "renewal" proposal to be funded in the 2020/21 exercise, the "renewal" project must start upon the completion of the current one before the end of the academic year 2020/21 (i.e. 30 June 2021). 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.

Matters Requiring Attention

May I draw applicants' attention to the following matters:

  1. Increased and dedicated budget for Collaborative Research Equipment Grant

    The RGC decided to dedicate $50 million of budget to equipment proposals named as "Collaborative Research Equipment Grant", which is about double the allocated amount of funding for Equipment Grant projects in each of the 2018/19 and 2019/20 exercises. In addition, $96 million has been reserved for group research proposals under the "Collaborative Research Project Grant" with effect from the 2020/21 exercise. The CRF Committee would exercise flexibility in redeployment of funding allocation between the two types of grant after supporting all meritorious proposals in the respective grants to ensure the quality of the proposals supported by the CRF.

  2. 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.

  3. Academic staff member who is seconded to work at Innovation and Technology (I&T) clusters at the Hong Kong Science Park

    Two research clusters, namely the "[email protected]" on healthcare technologies and the "[email protected]" on artificial intelligence and robotics technologies, would be established at the Hong Kong Science Park in order to attract the world's top universities, research institutes and technology enterprises in the relevant fields to conduct more collaborative research. It is envisaged that if local universities set up laboratories in the clusters, they may second some of their teaching faculties to work full-time or part-time at the clusters. Considering that the seconded staff concerned will retain their full-time appointment and position with their parent universities and will still be on the payroll of the parent universities, these seconded staff will not lose the eligibility to apply for RGC project grant solely because of the secondment. The RGC has approved to relax the eligibility requirements for RGC project grant such that an academic staff member of a UGC-funded university who joins the two research clusters concerned can still apply for funding under the various research funding schemes of the RGC, with effect from the 2020/21 exercise onwards.

  4. Pathways to Impact Statement

    At present, applicants of CRF need to describe "long-term impact" of the proposed research in their applications for assessment purpose. Based on the successful experience of Research Impact Fund, the "Pathways to Impact Statement" is an effective way to incentivise the applicants to articulate how to secure impact, what they propose to do and how they propose to start gathering evidence on impact from the outset. It can also foster a culture of actively thinking about impact as an integral part of research. With effect from the 2020/21 exercise, the existing requirement of provision of "long-term impact" will be replaced with the more systematic "Pathways to Impact Statement" requirement in all RGC research funding schemes, except travel/conference/exchange grants and Joint Research Schemes. Further assessment on research impact of the proposals will be based on the "Pathways to Impact Statement" provided by the applicants.

  5. Group Research Proposals with Public Policy Element

    One of the initiatives of the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office (PICO) is to set up a linkage between research projects with a public policy element with the appropriate policy bureaux so that they could be considered for possible implementation. This initiative would help formulate innovative policy response that could effectively address societal challenges and is supported. To echo PICO's initiative, if an applicant wishes to have his/her project details released to PICO if his/her application is successful, he/she should indicate such in the proposal by submitting a statement outlining the public policy element of the project.

  6. Provision of Open Research Contributor ID identifiers (ORCID iDs)

    With effect from the 2020/21 exercise, all local academics must provide valid ORCID iDs in applications in all capacity under all research funding schemes administered by the RGC. Grant applications submitted by applicants without valid ORCID iDs would not be considered.

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.

Deadline of Submission

Preliminary proposals for Collaborative Research Equipment Grant should be submitted on CRF(E)1P and those for Collaborative Research Project Grant and Renewal Funding should be submitted on CRF(GR&R)1P through the RGC Electronic System to the UGC Secretariat by 2 March 2020. 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.

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 Ms Becky Yu, Senior Research Administrator (Research Assessment Exercise) 1 (Tel: 2844 9917 or email: [email protected]).

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


Annex A

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

  3. feasibility in implementation;

  4. any university's support, including that of the sponsoring / collaborating universities/institutions;

  5. the prospect of external funding;

  6. maximum value for money; and

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

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Annex B

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

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

  4. 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.

  5. * * * * * * * *