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This year’s CERG (Competitive Earmarked Research Grant) exercise is under way with a record 1,698 applications requesting HK$1.6 billion.
    Altogether, research funds being administered by the RGC for 2002-2003 total HK$543.3 million, about 80 per cent of which will be set aside for competitive bids. Of this year’s bids, 637 are for engineering projects, 219 physical sciences, 432 biology and medicine, and 410 for projects under humanities, social sciences and business studies.
    Funding recommendations, based on the quality of proposals, will be made by subject panels at a series of meetings from 6 to 8 June, with results being announced within two weeks.

    The quality of proposals is the main factor used in determining how funds are allocated. To help assess quality, the RGC collects data from institutions on an on-going basis. The Common Data Collection Format, among other things, compiles many kinds of self-reported data from institutions on research output.
    In addition, each institution has to submit to the RGC an annual research report listing research output. The reports are circulated to the RGC and panel members for general reference.
    RGC Chairman, Professor Kenneth Young, said of the process: “The data give a rough guide on the quantity of an institution's research output but should be used with great care. To make comparisons without properly knowing the background, the disciplinary mix and staff mix, or even the method of data collection, and without trying to understand quality as well, can easily lead to dangerous misinterpretations.”
    Changes to the reporting system have been made recently. Prof Young added: “We use the data from these reports for reference only; they have no part in quality evaluation or the allocation of funding.” Rather, recurrent funding by UGC for research is based on the research performance of institutions and their respective staff sizes.
    A funding formula is derived from measuring the quality of research at individual institutions, and drives the allocation of research dollars for institutions in the UGC’s triennial block grants.
    Measurements are compiled via results from the Research Assessment Exercise which, as well as reflecting generally on the quality of research at institutions, also serves as a quality assurance process. The exercise has been in place since 1993.