Home > Funding Opportunities > General Research Fund > Application > The call letter dated 29 August 2019 issued by the Secretary, RGC to the Heads of UGC-funded universities inviting applications for the General Research Fund (GRF) for 2020/21 and the Early Career Scheme (ECS) for 2020/21

The call letter dated 29 August 2019 issued by the Secretary, RGC to the Heads of UGC-funded universities inviting applications for the General Research Fund (GRF) for 2020/21 and the Early Career Scheme (ECS) for 2020/21

Applications for Allocations from
(I) the General Research Fund 2020/21 and
(II) the Early Career Scheme 2020/21

The Research Grants Council (RGC) is inviting applications for allocations from the General Research Fund (GRF) 2020/21 and the Early Career Scheme (ECS) 2020/21. The details of the procedures of applying for the two schemes are provided below.

Submission and Deadline

The RGC Electronic System is available for submission of GRF and ECS applications from 29 August 2019 to 8 November 2019. All applications must be submitted through the electronic system. Applications should reach the UGC Secretariat through the electronic system by 8 November 2019. To avoid overloading the electronic system during the peak period, applicants are encouraged to submit their applications well before the submission deadline.


The RGC does not impose any quota on applications under both schemes. It is however important that universities should satisfy themselves that the applications are of sufficient quality before they are submitted to the RGC for consideration.

New appointees within the first three years of his / her full time academic job as a substantiation track / tenure track Assistant Professor or career equivalent level are encouraged to apply under the ECS. They may choose to submit their applications under the GRF or the ECS but not both in each funding cycle. Universities should check and confirm that the applicants meet the eligibility requirements. Grantees and awardees of the ECS may only receive the grant once. Those who failed in previous ECS exercises may re-submit applications, which can be a new research topic or a research topic previously applied but not supported, within the eligible period.

Financial Thresholds on Applications

Under both the GRF and ECS, the lower thresholds for applications are $150,000 for projects in the fields of Biology & Medicine, Engineering and Physical Sciences, and $100,000 for projects in the fields of Business Studies and Humanities & Social Sciences.

Applicants are invited to make reference to the average and range of funded amounts under the respective Subject Panels at Annex before they apply. Applicants should provide strong justification for proposals seeking funding significantly higher than funded amounts as indicated in the Annex. The budgets of these proposals must be well supported and will be critically examined by the respective Subject Panels. Applications with large budget for equipment and requiring collaborative efforts should be submitted under other funding schemes such as the Collaborative Research Fund or Research Impact Fund instead of the GRF / ECS.

Explanatory Notes

Applicants should read the Explanatory Notes (GRF2 and ECS2) carefully before completing the application forms. A full set of the Explanatory Notes has been uploaded to the RGC website (http://www.ugc.edu.hk/eng/rgc/funding_opport/funding_schemes.html).

Matters Requiring Attention

May I draw applicants' attention to the following decisions of the RGC / Subject Panel:

(a) 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 "Health@InnoHK" on healthcare technologies and the "AIR@InnoHK" on artificial intelligence and robotics technologies, would be established at the Hong Kong Science Park in the second half of 2019 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.

(b) Pathways to Impact Statement

At present, applicants of GRF / ECS 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.

(c) Budget of Proposals under the Engineering Panel

The Engineering (E) Panel noted in previous exercises that the size of grants requested varied considerably. The RGC therefore decided that as a general rule, the budget for proposals under the E Panel should not exceed $1.2 million. Strong justifications must be provided for proposals seeking more than $1.2 million.

(d) 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.

Currently, applicants are required to report the percentage of the total cost of the proposal related to public policy developments in the research proposal. To echo PICO's initiative, any funded projects with a public policy element would be sent to PICO for perusal after announcement of the funding results. If an applicant does not wish to have his / her project details released to PICO, he / she should inform the RGC separately when submitting his / her research proposal.

(e) 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.

Update of Proposals

Applicants are requested to provide a brief update setting out any essential changes to the applications, i.e. the eligibility of the Principal Investigators, addition / removal of Co-Investigators, alternative funding obtained, declaration of related proposals, investigator(s)'s CV, grant records, etc. through the electronic system by 15 April 2020. Such updates should be confined to the essential parts of the original proposals, and applicants should not use the opportunity to hand in a substantially changed proposal.

Hard Copies

Universities are required to print hard copies of each proposal which has been submitted through the electronic system for contingency purposes. The Secretariat will confirm the detailed requirements in April 2020. To help reduce the cost of processing, applicants are requested to keep the length of proposals and attachments to the minimum.


If your staff of the Research Office have any enquiries about the application procedures or other aspects of this letter, please contact Ms Connie Wong, Assistant Secretary-General (Research)1 (Tel.: 2844 9996 or email: conniewong@ugc.edu.hk) or Frederick Mak, Senior Research Administrator (2) (Tel.: 2844 9959 or email: fmak@ugc.edu.hk).