21 August 2019
Hong Kong needs to cultivate local research talent and provide sufficient funding for research to boost technology and innovation in the city. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong needs to cultivate local research talent and provide sufficient funding for research to boost technology and innovation in the city. Photo: Bloomberg

Nurturing local talent just as vital as funding in research

Last year, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced that the administration would set up eight task forces to look into various aspects of Hong Kong’s education landscape.

Among these committees is the Task Force on Review of Research Policy and Funding chaired by former vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, Professor Tsui Lap-chee.

In June this year, the task force released an interim report with a number of recommendations on the government’s funding policy for research projects carried out by our universities.

A public consultation exercise over the task force’s recommendations has been held.

In a nutshell, the task force is asking the government to double its annual funding for the Research Grants Council (RGC) from the existing HK$1 billion to HK$2 billion by 2022.

In the meantime, the task force also proposes that the administration inject no less than HK$10 billion into local research funds.

I am very much in support of these recommendations.

The investment returns of the research funds run by the RGC have fallen into continuous decline in recent years, down from around 7 percent in 2009 to only 3 percent in 2017.

It has become increasingly difficult for the RGC to continue to sustain its regular expenditure for local research projects, which stands at an average of HK$800 million to HK$1 billion every year.

By injecting a substantial amount of extra money into the research funds of the RGC, the proposed move can complement the effect of the fall in the investment returns on the research funds.

I believe it can guarantee the financial soundness of the institution and its capacity for supporting R&D projects in our local universities in the days ahead.

While providing sufficient funding is key to boosting tech innovations in Hong Kong, nurturing local research talent is equally important.

Unfortunately, over the past two decades, the proportion of local postgraduate research students to their overseas counterparts in Hong Kong universities has dropped sharply from 72 percent in the 1996/97 academic year to merely 19.4 percent in 2017/18, suggesting that the number of local research students is declining.

To address this worrisome trend, the task force proposes that the government establish additional scholarship programs for local post-doctoral students, as well as researchers and senior researchers with the RGC. I welcome these recommendations.

However, on top of these proposals, I would also like to suggest that the government reserve a proper percentage of places in postgraduate research courses in our universities for local students and scholars in order to provide economic incentives for young people in Hong Kong to join the academic sector.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 8

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector

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