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Results of the First-Round Areas of Excellence Scheme

The University Grants Committee (UGC) today (20 September 1999) announced the results of its first round Areas of Excellence scheme.

In January 1999, the UGC, advised by its Areas of Excellence Sub-Committee (AoESC), considered 41 formal AoE proposals submitted by the UGC-funded institutions and shortlisted eight for further consideration. Eight review panels, composed of both local and overseas experts in the field as well as prominent members of the Hong Kong community, were subsequently formed to undertake a detailed assessment of each of the eight shortlisted proposals. The review panels conducted site visits to the concerned institutions and interviewed the project teams in late August.

Based on the subsequent assessments made by the review panels and on the advice of its AoESC, the UGC considered the award of the first round funding in late August. After seeking further information on some of the proposals from the institutions concerned, the UGC has decided to fund the following proposals:

  • Information Technology (a joint proposal from CUHK, HKUST and HKU with an allocation of $51 million);

  • Institute of Economics and Business Strategy (a proposal from HKU with an allocation of $36.2 million)

  • Plant and Fungal Biotechnology (a proposal from CUHK with an allocation of $38.8 million)

Speaking at a press conference to announce the results of the first round of the AoE Scheme, Dr Alice Lam, UGC Chairman,said today : "The UGC is pleased to see that all three proposals have demonstrated a clear potential to be recognised internationally as of equal status to their peers in the same subject area. The UGC is confident that the outcome of the three proposals will benefit the social, economic and academic well-being of Hong Kong in the long run," she added.

Dr York Liao, Chairman of the UGC's Areas of Excellence Sub-Committee explained: "All three proposals are based on firmly established strengths in the concerned disciplines. They also involve teams with the right credentials and potential for high synergistic impact, and have a clear and viable management and governance structure. The latter is necessary for the efficient and effective future management of the projects, and for a continuous development of their respective area to keep up with the dynamic and competitive global environment,'' he added.s

In assessing the eight shortlisted proposals, the UGC paid particular attention to the prospects of the proposed Areas of Excellence achieving an international standard of excellence,their relevance to the future social or economic development of Hong Kong, as well as whether the proposals build on the existing strengths and achievements of the institutions concerned.

The UGC will fund the three proposals for five years with a total amount of $126 million from its Central Allocation Vote, of which about $47 million will be allocated in the first two years to meet the cash flow requirements of the projects within the 1998-2001 triennium.

"Following this initial injection of funds, the UGC hopes that in 5 years' time, the three proposals will have developed to such a stage that the Areas of Excellence will have no problem in sustaining their further development ," said Dr Liao.

The progress of the proposals will be monitored firstly through annual progress reports and secondly through a more formal review initially after 2 years by the UGC and international experts to allow for face-to-face discussion with the teams and on-site assessment of the achievements of the projects. In addition, the UGC will pay close and constant attention to their evolution, as has always been the case for all major UGC funded projects.

Dr Lam added, "The meaning of the scheme goes far beyond the selection of the individual proposals. In a wider perspective, the UGC is very pleased to see that the first round of the AoE scheme has successfully motivated all UGC-funded institutions to focus their attention and resources on their areas of strength and to explore and develop synergies with other institutions. This is vitally important if Hong Kong is to develop into a regional centre of higher education."

"We are very happy to see that most of the proposals, in particular the shortlisted ones, have all built on existing strengths in the institutions concerned, and are in areas of potential strategic importance to Hong Kong," added Dr Lam.

"The UGC recognizes that a lot of effort has been pu tin both by all the project teams of the eight short-listed proposals and by the institutions concerned to support and further develop the identified areas of strength or to develop a strategy to further such strengths. We will feed back the very useful comments made by the review panels so that they can improve on the proposals in future," Dr Liao said.

Dr Liao announced that as this is the first time that the UGC has conducted the AoE scheme, the Committee planned to organise an experience sharing forum with the institutions on how the AoE scheme could be improved.

"We will certainly take into account views from all sides before we finalise the details of the second round, which the UGC hopes to initiate next year," said Dr Lam.


On the advice of the UGC, the Government agreed in 1997 to support UGC-funded institutions to build upon their existing strengths with a view to developing them into "Areas of Excellence". The aim is to assist in maintaining and enhancing Hong Kong's pivotal position in the overall development of China and the Pacific Rim. Both the Government and the UGC hope that these Areas of Excellence will be recognised internationally as of equal status to their peers in the same subject area, and expect that they will justify additional investment in state-of the-art facilities and activities to maintain or advance their position among the world leaders.

UGC Secretariat
Wednesday, September 22, 1999