Chapter 28: Research

28.1 Our discussion of the future of higher education in the first three chapters of Section F has been concerned with teaching. In turning now to research, we take it as read that all providers of higher education have a duty and commitment to high quality teaching and that that teaching will be illuminated by the proximate activities of scholarship and research. As such, research should be an integral part of most higher education institutions' activities. However, the relative effort devoted to research will vary depending upon the institutions' missions. For some of the kinds of higher education which we have described in earlier chapters, substantive effort on research is clearly unnecessary and impracticable; for others, teaching and research are essentially inseparable; for all higher education, concommitant scholarship is a requirement. Where research does occur, we believe that it should be a natural phenomenon arising from the enthusiasm of individuals and not something artificially imposed in an endeavour to raise the status of the institution, although cultivating an environment and culture conducive to research may well be an appropriate institutional endeavour.

28.2 In Hong Kong research degrees were in the past of limited employment value outside academia. As the economy has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, however, we have witnessed a substantial growth in the demand for research degree holders in non-academic sectors. We believe this trend will continue. Hitherto the HEIs in Hong Kong have recruited academic staff very largely from those who have gained PhDs overseas. Good universities depend on the free flow of ideas and staff, and we believe that recruitment from the international pool of talent should continue, and that Hong Kong should also contribute graduates to that pool, but we should also recruit locally. Inside HEIs, research students (some of whom will subsequently become staff members) do not merely provide a major element in the workforce which conducts research, they also form a link between undergraduates and academic staff through their contribution to teaching (see paragraphs 26.3 and 26.4). Such experience of teaching is of great value to the research student whether or not he or she contemplates a career in higher education.

28.3 The attraction and motivation of research students are important questions. At present, the stipend of a research studentship is about the same as the average starting salary of a local first degree graduate. Thus the attraction for a local student to pursue a research degree is largely its perceived market value. The pool of local students willing to pursue research degrees has grown in recent years as the demand for research degree holders has increased. However, we expect the size of the pool to fluctuate with the economy as in other countries. For non-local students, especially those from China and less developed Asian countries, the position may be very different. The remuneration and opportunities in Hong Kong as well as the quality of our HEIs' facilities and staff have turned out to be good attractions. We expect the non-local pool to remain as an important supplementary source for high quality research students in the future.

28.4 We have described the growth and present state of research activity in Hong Kong in Chapter 13. The availability of increasing government monies earmarked for research and the advent of the Research Grants Council to disburse them have given a great impetus to research within the HEIs. The majority of that research is at present, and should be post-1998, part of the worldwide search for knowledge, much of it in scientific and technological areas of no more special reference to Hong Kong than other places. It is only by participating in this general activity that Hong Kong academics can maintain their currency of both knowledge and reputation, with attendant benefits for both teaching and local application. A good deal of research in the arts and social sciences is also, and is likely to be, of universal rather than local relevance, although more work in these areas will be based upon local data or materials.

28.5 The UGC perceives two objectives for research post-1998. The first is to ensure that the staff and research students in Hong Kong's HEIs are participants in the global endeavour to extend human understanding and are thus able to keep the knowledge base in our institutions current. This requires keeping open the lines of communication to universities and research institutes in other countries, and extending them. It requires visits, exchange programmes and joint research. It requires access to a wide range of current journals immediately they are published. Continued development of information technology and the internet should make this objective easier to achieve, but is unlikely to make it cheaper.

28.6 The second objective for research in Hong Kong's HEIs should be to continue to increase the proportion of work which is linked with the interests of the community and to carry out more of it with local partners, both active and passive. At present the community does not make substantial use of the research resources of the HEIs, and not many employers realize that their business might benefit from contact or collaboration with a university research group. University staff may have difficulty in reconciling their research objectives with those of an industrial or commercial partner and may be unwilling to give sufficient time to what is the usual first task of the collaboration: not to solve a problem, but to define it.

28.7 The situation has however been improving with the recent introduction by government of funding for applied research and collaborative projects between universities and industry. Nevertheless, we would still emphasise that it is very important for Hong Kong's future in a knowledge based economy that there should post-1998 be a growing symbiosis between the HEIs and the community. This applies not just to industry and commerce, but to government at all levels and the social and other services. We shall return to aspects of both the first and second objectives of future research in the next chapter.

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