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Broad agreement from Heads of Institutions on new arrangements to allocate research funding

The UGC intends to achieve greater competition on the basis of merit in the three key funding areas of research: the research portion of the block grant; the Research Grants Council; and research postgraduate places. The Heads of the 8 institutions are in support of enhanced competition. The UGC has the agreement from them on the need for the new funding arrangement, since the UGC has addressed their concerns and will review the scheme before the end of the 2012-15 triennium.

Research Postgraduate Places

There is general agreement among institutions that the allocation of research postgraduate places must be placed on some competitive basis: currently almost all research postgraduate places are allocated on an historical basis. The UGC's intention is that within five years from 2012/13, 50% of all research postgraduate places will be allocated either through direct competition or by reference to other competitive schemes.

Research Portion of the Block Grant ($2.7 billion per year)

The UGC considers that the current allocation of the research portion of the Block Grant does not adequately capture vitality in the system, nor reflect the true costs of carrying out research won through the RGC. The UGC sees a need to progressively award 12.5% of the total Block Grant on a more competitive basis over a period of nine years. This will be done by reference to the success of individual institutions in peer reviewed RGC funding schemes. In so doing, Hong Kong will become more in line with other jurisdictions doing excellent research.

Institutions agreed that more competition would benefit our higher education sector, but were concerned about their ability to cope with the pace and the magnitude of this change. The UGC has decided to implement the following to address institutions' concerns:

    (a) the magnitude involved is only 12.5% of the Block Grant spread over a period of nine years, and it will be tapered (i.e. smaller at the beginning). Broadly speaking, the maximum variable funding an institution's management needs to take account of in the first year is 1.3%, the second year 2.6% and the third year 3.9%, even if in the extreme case that the institution does not get any successful proposals in RGC;

    (b) 12.5% of the Block Grant will continue to be distributed amongst the institutions with reference to the results of the Research Assessment Exercise; and

    (c) the UGC will review the elements of the scheme, including the pace of change, before the end of the first triennium (i.e. 2015) so that appropriate adjustments can be considered in a timely manner.

Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS)

The UGC has decided to implement the following measures to ensure that HSS research will have the potential to flourish:

    (a) a premium will be introduced to the allocation of the research portion of the Block Grant for HSS

    (b) additional funding of up to $20 million per year will be provided to the RGC to improve its funding arrangements for HSS academics, through expansion in the scope and duration of the teaching relief grants awarded, and through the introduction of a new fellowship scheme for outstanding investigators in HSS disciplines.

Early Career Scheme

The RGC plans to implement an Early Career Scheme with funding of up to $100 million to ensure that more research funding will be provided to nurture junior/new academics.

The aim of all these changes is that in the long term, institutions which undertake excellent research will be rewarded promptly and provided with adequate indirect/on-costs to undertake excellent research.

A New Research Assessment Exercise

The UGC has decided that a new Research Assessment Exercise will be necessary to sharpen the measurement of research inputs and outputs to form the basis to inform the distribution of the Research element of the Block Grant. The UGC will consult the institutions on this matter after it has considered the broad framework for the next Research Assessment Exercise.

In general, the Heads of Institutions are supportive of the above measures and the general direction of enhancing competitiveness in the award of research funding. Institutions generally believe that these measures would drive excellence and are beneficial to the development of higher education.