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Earmarked Research Grant 1999-2000

The Research Grants Council (RGC) announced today (5 July 1999) its decisions on the annual Competitive Earmarked Research Grants exercise for 1999-2000. Announcing the results today were Professor Ping K Ko, the immediate past RGC Chairman and Professor Kenneth Young, the new Chairman of the RGC.

A total of $325 million was awarded as project grants in response to applications from the academic staff of the UGC-funded institutions in the annual competitive exercise. This year, a total of 1,496 applications, which was 6% more than last year, was received by the RGC applying for about $1,440 million. Based on the recommendations of its four subject panels, the RGC decided to fund 578 projects, which represented an average success rate of 39% (a table showing the number of funded projects and the amount of grants by broad subject discipline and institution is at Annex A). This is slightly lower when compared with last year's success rate of 40%. Both Professor Young and Professor Ko were pleased to note the continual improvement in the quality of the research proposals.

In addition to the funded proposals, the RGC rated a further 321 proposals as "fundable but not funded". These proposals were considered to be of sufficient quality to merit at least partial funding, but the Council was unable to support them because of a lack of funds.

Prof Ko said that apart from awarding competitive project grants, the RGC also allocated $70 million in 1999-2000 as direct allocations to the UGC-funded institutions to enable them to support smaller start-up projects of up to $200,000 each for new staff. The balance of the RGC's funding, about $28 million, would be used largely to support the Central Allocation Scheme, a scheme for supporting the purchase of major research equipment for use among institutions and for supporting group research projects.

Prof Ko explained that in 1997-98, the RGC introduced the group research scheme to encourage inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional research activities. The scheme is aimed at supporting larger and longer term research projects which have a potential for capacity building and synergy among the researchers involved. Prof Ko said that since the introduction of this scheme, there has been a very enthusiastic response from the UGC-funded institutions. In 1998-99 alone, 16 proposals were received asking for $83 million. At the end, 5 projects were supported at a total of $18.3 million (a list of the group research projects supported by the RGC in 1998-99 is at Annex B). Another selection exercise will be conducted in 1999-2000.

Prof Ko also pointed to the increasing number of joint research schemes established with overseas countries and the Mainland. Prof Ko said: "In November 1998, the RGC established a pilot joint research scheme with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) with an initial funding of about HK$15 million annually." The joint scheme is aimed at encouraging collaboration between researchers in Hong Kong and the Mainland in the areas of Information Technology, Life Science, New Materials Science, Marine and Environment Science, Chinese Medicine and Management Science. It is different from other joint research schemes in that it would support actual research expenses, instead of just the travel and subsistence grants normally given in the other joint schemes. The pilot scheme would run initially for three years. The first exercise of the pilot scheme has received very enthusiastic responses from the institutions. Out of the 229 initial proposals received, 39 were short-listed in conjunction with the NSFC for further processing. Results are expected to be announced by the end of this year.

The other three joint research schemes currently in operation are the UK/Hong Kong Joint Research Scheme operated in partnership with the British Council since 1991 (which is expected to wind down by 2000), the Germany/Hong Kong Joint Research Scheme operated in partnership with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) since 1996 and the France/Hong Kong Joint Research Scheme operated in partnership with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the French consulate since 1998.

Looking back over the past 12 months, Prof Ko said: "It has been a very busy, but fruitful year. The RGC has put in a lot of efforts to build up the research base in the UGC-funded institutions and I am pleased to say that the efforts are beginning to bear fruits. Some of our overseas panel members have advised that the top 10% to 15% of our research proposals are competitive internationally." In his role as the new Chairman of the RGC, Prof Young commented that the RGC will build upon the past success and will continue to work with institutions to further develop the research culture in Hong Kong.

Established in 1991, the RGC is a semi-autonomous advisory body within the organisational structure of the University Grants Committee (UGC).

UGC Secretariat
2 July 1999

(The two annexes will be distributed at the press conference.)
Note to the Editors:
At the press conference to be held on Monday, 5 July 1999, Prof Kenneth Young, the new RGC Chairman, would be introduced . Below are introductory notes on both gentlemen.
- Prof Kenneth Young took over from Prof Ping K Ko as the Chairman, RGC on 1 July 1999. Prof Young is a theoretical physicist. He is currently Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Physics of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Prof Young has served as a member of the RGC from 1993 to 1996 and as a panel member of the RGC from 1991 to 1996. He has also been a member of the University Grants Committee since 1993. Prof Young is currently also a member of the Radiation Board and a member of the Radiological Protection Advisory Group.
- Prof Ko retired from the RGC with effect form 30 June 1999 after more than eight years' service on the RGC. He has served with the RGC since its inception in January 1991, starting first as a Council member and Chairman of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Panel and subsequently taking over as Chairman of the RGC in January 1994.