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Research Assessment Exercise 1999 - Local Universities Achieve Remarkable Research Results

There has been a further remarkable improvement in the research performance of all higher education institutions in Hong Kong since 1996, with many research outputs achieving international standards, the University Grants Committee ("UGC") reported today.

Announcing the results of the UGC's 1999 Research Assessment Exercise ("RAE"), as endorsed by the UGC at its meeting on 14 April 2000, Dr Alice Lam, Chairman of the UGC, explained: "All UGC funded institutions, i.e. the seven local universities and the Hong Kong Institute of Education, are obliged to submit their research outputs to the UGC for assessment in the RAE."

"This exercise is conducted over a 3-year cycle and the results are factored into the UGC's assessment of the institutions' recurrent grants. The first two RAEs were carried out in 1993 and 1996."

In RAE 1999, more than 4,200 eligible staff in the eight UGC-funded institutions submitted research output items for review and over 18,000 items were assessed, representing an increase of roughly 30% over 1996.

The threshold standard for the purposes of RAE 1999 was defined as "Quality of output equates to an attainable level of excellence appropriate to the discipline in Hong Kong, and showing some evidence of international excellence", which was similar to the definition used in the last exercise in 1996.

"However, in view of the substantial improvement which we believed had taken place in the quality of research in recent years, we made a deliberate decision that the definition would be interpreted more stringently in RAE 1999," Dr Lam said.

"I am delighted to say that this decision has clearly been vindicated," she added.

Despite the more stringent interpretation of the definition, several panel members who had experience of previous RAEs commented that there had again been real and substantial improvements. The UGC was pleased to note that overseas members were generally impressed by the quality of research outputs submitted which in their opinion, compared well with international standards with which they were familiar.

There were 12 research assessment panels comprising 180 members with 138 local academics or business people and 42 prominent overseas academics/professional coming from Australia, Canada, mainland China, Japan, Taiwan, U.K., and the U.S.A. In RAE 1999, the UGC again adopted a very broad definition of research, including applied research, but on this occasion also used a definition of research and 'scholarship' as developed and refined by the Carnegie Foundation, which covered "discovery, integration, application and teaching". The adoption of this broader definition was aimed at counteracting the perceived bias in favour of traditional or basic research in previous exercises.

"I think we have achieved some success in conveying the message that high quality research and scholarship is to be encouraged and will be assessed appropriately and across a broad front. We believe we have set off on the right path, but more work still needs to be done to reinforce the message in more concrete terms, " Dr Lam said.

"Nevertheless," Dr Lam said "over 70% of the eligible academic staff in the UGC-funded institutions were able to produce some output that were of a quality which the panels considered worthwhile, and over 55% (including fractional counts) have been assessed to have met the threshold standard of excellence appropriate to the discipline in Hong Kong, and showing some evidence of international excellence."

"The three research intensive universities, CUHK, HKU and HKUST have continued to achieve best in depth, but improvements were found across the board. Moreover, it is neither fair nor appropriate to compare directly the institutions' performance in research, without having regard to their different roles and missions".

In the current triennium (1998-2001), the UGC allocated a total of $12,017 million to institutions for research. This figure includes both the Earmarked Research Grant, administered by the Research Grants Council ("RGC") and the 'Research' portion of the institutions' recurrent grants. The results of RAE 1999 will be factored into the allocation of the 'Research' portion of the institutions' recurrent grants for the 2001-2004 triennium.

UGC Secretariat
Thursday, May 18, 2000