Call for Preliminary Proposals

Areas of Excellence Scheme 2023/24 (Eleventh Round)
Theme-based Research Scheme 2023/24 (Thirteenth Round)
Call for Preliminary Proposals


The Research Grants Council (RGC) is inviting the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities to submit preliminary proposals for the Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme 2023/24 (Eleventh Round) and the Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) 2023/24 (Thirteenth Round).

Objectives of the Schemes

AoE Scheme

2. The AoE Scheme aims at enabling the UGC-funded universities to build upon their existing strengths and develop them into areas of excellence. The scheme intends to support both basic and applied research of high academic merit. The scope of a proposal should be broad and long term, and at the same time sufficiently focused. Research collaboration is one of the core requirements for a proposed AoE, and both inter-institutional collaboration projects and inter-disciplinary projects within the same university are encouraged. A successful proposal should involve a combination of research and teaching, and should aim to:

  • be inter-disciplinary (if it is based on one distinct discipline, it must address a wide range of specific problems);

  • address a broad range of inter-related issues through a well-defined set of research problems;

  • show a clear sense of purpose, direction and priorities.

3. Starting from the 2022/23 exercise, the AoE Scheme was repositioned to primarily fund major projects outside the four themes and grand challenge topics of the TRS, including but not limited to inter-disciplinary projects involving collaboration with / among humanities and social sciences disciplines. The parameters of the AoE Scheme, including the maximum direct project cost, project duration and project monitoring mechanism, have been synchronised with the TRS.


4. The objective of the TRS is to focus academic research efforts of the UGC-funded universities on themes of strategic importance to the long-term development of Hong Kong.

5. TRS applications should be made under one of the research themes and one of the grand challenge topics under the respective theme. To enhance Hong Kong's competitive advantages and better integration into the overall national development, the RGC has recently completed a review on themes and grand challenge topics of the TRS. Two new topics, namely "Quantum Technology" and "Integrated Circuits" have been added to Theme 4 "Advancing Emerging Research and Innovations Important to Hong Kong" in the current exercise. The four themes and 20 grand challenge topics are listed below:

  (a) Understanding Diseases and Disease Prevention
  1. Infectious Diseases
  2. Understanding Disease Mechanisms to Improving Health
  3. Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine
  4. Disease Prevention and Management
  (b) Developing a Sustainable Environment
  1. Water Pollution and Water Treatment
  2. Sustainable Built Environment
  3. Energy Efficiency, Conservation, Conversion and Harvesting
  4. Air Quality
  5. Food Production and Food Security
  (c) Enhancing Hong Kong’s Strategic Position as a Regional and International Business Centre
  1. Hong Kong’s Future as an International Financial Centre
  2. Promoting Hong Kong’s Business through Networking Capability
  3. Promoting Hong Kong as a Centre of Excellence for Business Services
  4. Innovation Ecology and Business Creation in Knowledge Economy
  5. Financial Technologies (FinTech) and Regulatory Technologies (RegTech)
  (d) Advancing Emerging Research and Innovations Important to Hong Kong
  1. Big Data and Artificial Intelligence
  2. Imaging, Robotics and Smart Manufacturing
  3. Urban Infrastructure and Smart City
  4. Education and Digital Citizenship
  5. Quantum Technology
  6. Integrated Circuits

Transfer of Proposals Between AoE Scheme And TRS

6. The transfer arrangement between the AoE Scheme and the TRS will continue in the 2023/24 exercise. If the RGC finds that a TRS preliminary proposal does not fall under the themes and grand challenge topics of the TRS, the RGC will transfer the proposal directly to the AoE Scheme exercise. Similarly, an AoE proposal will be transferred to the TRS exercise directly if it falls under the themes and grand challenge topics of the TRS. The decision of the RGC will be final. There is no need for the applicant to fill in another application form in case of transfer.

7. Because of the transfer mechanism, an applicant is only allowed to submit one application in the capacity of Project Coordinator (PC) under either the AoE Scheme or the TRS in the same exercise. A single application form will be used for the two schemes. The applicant should explain in the application why the proposal fits the scheme chosen and consent to the transfer arrangement. In addition, an applicant is not permitted to submit the same proposal to both the AoE Scheme / TRS and the Strategic Topics Grant in the same exercise. If such is found, the proposal submitted to the AoE Scheme / TRS will not be processed.

"Exploratory Option"

8. There is an "Exploratory Option" under both the AoE Scheme and the TRS starting from the 2022/23 exercise. The objective of the "Exploratory Option" is to allow the RGC 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 projects will be given one-year budget on pro rata basis and a duration of one year to yield preliminary results. The PCs of exploratory projects will need to submit a fresh application and compete with other proposals on equal footing in the subsequent funding cycle.

9. The "Exploratory Option" is discretionary. There is no need for the applicants to specify the exploratory nature of their proposals. The relevant Selection Panel may 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’ credential 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 inter-disciplinary perspectives, as well as having sufficient potentials in yielding results.

Assessment Criteria

AoE Scheme

10. The criteria for assessing AoE proposals are grouped under the following four primary "filters":

  • qualification as world-leading by international standards and as an Area of Excellence;

  • credentials and resources of the project team;

  • existence of a clear strategy; and

  • sound structure for an area of excellence.

11. Each of the four "filters" carries the same weight. Among the assessment criteria, considerable emphasis will be placed on both the prospects of a proposed AoE attaining international excellence and its relevance to the social and economic development of Hong Kong in the long run.


12. The preliminary TRS proposals will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  • qualification as world-leading by international standards;

  • impact to Hong Kong;

  • credentials of the project team;

  • existence of a clear strategy; and

  • sound structure for an excellent research project.

13. Details of the assessment criteria are described on pages 3 to 5 of the "Guidance Documents on Submission of Preliminary Proposals" (Guidance Documents).

Declaration of Time Commitments by PCs

14. To understand more about the applicant’s research efforts, an applicant is required to provide the numbers of both on-going individual research projects and on-going collaborative research projects being held by him / her in any capacity. If the PC holds more than three on-going individual research projects or more than two on-going collaborative research projects, he / she should provide the overall amount of time spent on research in percentage terms and justifications on how he / she would be able to take up this additional research project if funded while maintaining the research quality.

Preliminary Proposals

15. General information and guidelines to applicants for preparing and submitting preliminary proposals are set out in the Guidance Documents attached to this Call Circular. The Guidance Documents also include the "Preliminary Proposal Application Form Template".

16. All applications must be submitted to the UGC Secretariat through the Research Office of the coordinating university by 5:00 pm on 26 September 2022. Please provide two hard copies and one soft copy of the proposals (allowing search function with size up to 5MB per proposal). The soft copy should contain all the information as presented in the hard copy. Please save all files in one CD or one USB memory stick, with the file names identical to the project reference number specified on page 3 of the Guidance Documents.

Shortlisting Results

17. Universities will be informed of the shortlisting results and invited to submit full proposals in late December 2022. The funding decision will be announced in around July 2023.

Code of Conduct and Handling of Information and Personal Data

18. The RGC is fully committed to the principle of honesty, integrity and fair play in the conduct of its business. To uphold public trust and protect public interest, all applications should comply with the RGC Code of Conduct which is available on the RGC website:

19. The guidelines for the handling of information and personal data contained in the applications are available on the RGC website:


20. Enquiries about this call and other related matters about the AoE Scheme and the TRS should be directed to the Research Offices of the coordinating universities, which, if in doubt, should consult the UGC Secretariat for clarification. Also, correspondence regarding AoE and TRS matters including enquiries, appeals and complaints should be made through the Research Offices of the coordinating universities. Their contact details are as follows:

Ms Cecilia Sun
City University of Hong Kong
83 Tat Chee Avenue
Kowloon Tong

Tel: 3442 6832
Fax: 3442 0136

Ms Fiona Wong
Hong Kong Baptist University
Kowloon Tong

Tel: 3411 6499
Fax: 3411 5133

Ms Connie Lam
Lingnan University
8 Castle Peak Road
Tuen Mun
New Territories

Tel: 2616 7683
Fax: 2591 9618

Ms Connie Yeung
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
New Territories

Tel: 3943 6545
Fax: 3942 0993

Miss Christine Yeung
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hung Hom

Tel: 2766 4046
Fax: 2355 7651

Ms Catherine Leung
The Hong Kong University of Science
and Technology
Clear Water Bay

Tel: 2358 6946
Fax: 2358 1541

Ms Lo Hung
The University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong

Tel: 2219 4889
Fax: 2803 0558

Ms Clara Fong
The Education University of Hong Kong
10 Lo Ping Road
Tai Po
New Territories

Tel: 2948 7700
Fax: 2948 7697

July 2022