Home > UGC Publications > Press Releases > 1999 > Letter to the Editor, the Sun on the Article about Research Grant Funding for HKUST of 15 May 1999

Letter to the Editor, the Sun on the Article about Research Grant Funding for HKUST of 15 May 1999

25 May 1999

The Editor
The Sun
7 Wang Tai Road
Kowloon Bay

Dear Sir,

I refer to the article about research grant funding for HKUST which appeared in your newspaper on 15 May 1999.

  1. This article alleged maladministration on the part of the "Education Grants Committee", presumably a reference to the University Grants Committee (UGC) under whose aegis the Research Grants Council (RGC) administers grants for research projects undertaken by academic staff of the UGC-funded institutions. The article further alleged that the RGC had approved more grants to HKUST in recent years because four members of the RGC were HKUST staff.

  2. We take very strong exception to these unfounded and malicious allegations. Research proposals submitted to the RGC are subject to a rigorous independent assessment process involving peer review by renowned international academic/professional experts in the subject areas concerned. Funding for research proposals is decided entirely on the merits of individual proposals, based on assessments and recommendations from external reviewers and subject panel members. Decisions are taken by subject panels, and not by individual members.

  3. Members of the RGC and of its four subject panels, whether from overseas or local institutions, are appointed in their personal capacity. They do not represent the interests of the institutions they serve and are advised clearly of this when they are appointed. The operations of the Council and the panels are also designed in such a way that members have to declare any potential conflict of interest and abstain from discussions of any proposals with which they are personally involved. There is also no voting when proposals are determined. Furthermore, no panel members or chairs are permitted to evaluate or comment upon proposals submitted by their own institutions. All members are well aware of these arrangements and have abided by them. Thus to imply that members who are at the same time staff of the institutions can show bias and favour towards the proposals of their institutions displays a complete ignorance of how the panels operate.

  4. The article also referred by name to two RGC members who are visiting scholars at HKUST suggesting that they should have resigned from the RGC "to avoid a conflict of interest". This is simply nonsense. Both the UGC and the RGC benefit enormously from the contributions of overseas members. The institutions also welcome the presence of overseas academics teaching and undertaking research in Hong Kong, either as visiting scholars or on a longer term appointment basis. We believe such arrangements are generally for the good of Hong Kong.

  5. Arrangements for visiting professorships are made by all the UGC-funded institutions and the cases mentioned were fully in line with established personnel policies. Moreover the arrangements described in paragraph 4 above apply equally to the two professors who have studiously observed these rules.

  6. The success rates of HKUST's proposals simply reflect the quality of the research work undertaken by that University. However to put your figures into context, the success rates of HKUST proposals are 90% in 1991/92, 59% in 1992/93, 72% in 1993/94, 65% in 1994/95, 63% in 1995/96, 54% in 1996/97, 58% in 1997/98 and 61% in 1998/99. To take the logic of the allegation regarding the two professors contained in the article, the figures in fact show that the university's success rates have gone down after the two professors became members of the RGC in 1993 and 1996 respectively. This shows that your article has provided a false explanation for a non-fact.

  7. I should be grateful if you would publish this letter so that the RGC can have an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding of the RGC's operations and of the two professors' roles in them created by your article.

Yours sincerely,

( Mrs Brenda Fung )
Research Grants Council