Home > UGC Publications > Speeches and Articles > 2011 > Response to concerns over the Transfer of the Research (R) Portion of the Block Grant

Response to concerns over the Transfer of the Research (R) Portion of the Block Grant

University Grants Committee (UGC) has all along advocated the pursuit of “excellence” by the academic community and strongly believes in “competition drives excellence”. This was proven over and again in other aspects of our society, and in other parts of the world. UGC also strongly believes that our institutions have outstanding students and professors who can conduct excellent world-class research.

Looking to the future, Hong Kong institutions have to face the intensified challenges from the region and the rest of the world. The UGC needs to enhance the current funding mechanism, in order to strengthen the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s institutions.

Research Grants Council’s (RGC) budget has increased in recent years. The investment income of the $18 billion Research Endowment Fund set up in 2009 provides a 40% increase in RGC research funding.

Recently, there are concerns over the proposed transfer of $1.3 billion from the research portion of the Block Grant (hereinafter as the “R portion”) to the RGC as stated in the UGC’s Report “Aspirations for the Higher Education System in Hong Kong”. The Society of Hong Kong Scholars has also published an article in Mingpao on 10 February 2011 expressing concern over the transfer of R portion and support for junior academics (see note).

The sole purpose of the current proposal to transfer part of R portion to RGC (over a period of nine years) is to make Hong Kong’s research more competitive so that our institutions could take this opportunity to raise their work to the next level of achievement. Also, the RGC will launch in August this year the Early Career Scheme, which will help nurture junior academics to conduct high quality research.

At present, the R portion is $2.7 billion and its allocation is NOT by competition but just allocated to institutions. Such amount is four times the RGC budget of approximately $750 million.

In future, $1.3 billion of the R portion will be distributed by the RGC through competition. If an institution is very successful in the project competitions, the institution would gain more funding, and vice versa. After the transition period, there remains $1.4 billion to be directly allocated to institutions for their research work.

It must be stressed again that the total amount available to institutions for research will not change. It is rather that an element of that R funding will in future be dependent on success in the RGC competition. The transferred amount won by an institution will still be at the disposal of the Head of Institution, who will still have full freedom to decide how to allocate the funds within the institution.

Research work of the USA has always been in the forefront, but the federal and state governments do not provide block grant funding to universities. Every single research dollar must be competed for. We are not advocating that model. We are advocating a balanced model – partly competitive and partly secure.

In recent years, RGC concentrates resources on the best quality projects, providing more funding for world-class projects, supporting our institutions to advance further. In fact, RGC does not have a pre-determined success rate. Success is determined by rigorous assessment by world experts.

For the past three years, RGC success rate is around 35%. Of the 3000 active researchers, about 55% of them have been awarded funding, and only 4% of academics have successfully been awarded funding consecutively over three years.

UGC agrees that Hong Kong should invest more on research, and has successfully convinced the Government to increase its support in research. The amount provided for research projects through the RGC has increased from about $605 million in 2006/07 to about $900 million in 2011/12 and beyond. UGC will continue to seek Government support in the future. We are also happy to see that institutions are receiving increased research support from the Innovation and Technology Fund, industry and non-local research funding bodies, as well as from private donations, assisted by the Matching Grant Schemes.

  The Society of Hong Kong Scholars considers that:
The $1.3 billion transfer to the RGC is not an actual increase in research funding but only moving funds from one item to another;
With the reduced R portion, there will not be enough funding for research within institutions, particularly for new and junior academics;
RGC’s intention to further decrease success rate in research proposals means that some 70% of the professors will not receive research funding and the same 30% of professors will obtain funding year after year;
It is unrealistic to just fund excellent research, there should be a “spectrum” of research from excellent to “average” ones.