Academic urges more funding for research
The government should commit more resources to tertiary education and review the funding mechanism, says the vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong.
Tsui Lap-chee said the existing mechanism - which puts the entire responsibility on the University Grants Committee - was inadequate to meet the growing demands for research.
The review should include adjusting the allocations to teaching and research, creating more funding channels for researchers and linking research funding to GDP growth.
He cited, as an example, the US National Institutes of Health which has a big budget for research projects for which universities compete.
'In developed countries, funding for research is usually a number of percentage points of the GDP, but in Hong Kong, it is only 0.5 per cent,' Professor Tsui said, adding that funding was equally divided between teaching and research in those countries.
However, in Hong Kong the University Grants Committee earmarked $10 billion for the eight tertiary institutes and only $500 million for research.
Professor Tsui, a geneticist, took the vice-chancellorship in the summer of 2002, at a time when the economic downturn sparked funding cuts and private donations became increasingly important.
It was against this background that the university became embroiled in a controversy over a decision to rename its medical faculty after Li Ka-shing following the tycoon's donation of $1 billion.
'Donors donate because they have their aspirations. Their donation will strengthen the university's research excellence. But for the rest, such as hiring top professors, we need government support. We can't do it by just relying on private donations,' he said.
Professor Tsui revealed that the university had decided to hire 200 staff over the next six years to cope with the switch from a three-year to four-year degree curriculum in undergraduate education which begins in September 2009.
Other planned changes include greater flexibility in the curriculum to make it easier for students to transfer to other departments and for non-curriculum education opportunities, such as internships and problem-based learning.
'We haven't decided whether there will be credits for non-curriculum learning. But the spirit is that students should have more flexibility if they want to change majors.'
Professor Tsui said the university would unveil details at the end of the year.
In 2004-05, the University of Hong Kong received from the UGC research grants of $143.5 million - about 30 per cent of the total allocation to all local tertiary institutes.
The National University of Singapore, on the other hand, received S$165.1 million ($792.9 million) in research funds in 2003, with more than 80 per cent coming from government sources.
Additional reporting by Felix Chan