Hong Kong is no pioneer in research and development, even though R&D is widely recognised as the propeller of economic growth today. As major world economies continue to invest on this front, the need for the city to catch up is obvious. One option is to strengthen collaboration between universities and the business sector. The former has the talent and expertise while the latter has the money. All it takes is a go-between.
Overseas companies often partner with universities for product design and development, but research funding for local universities largely comes from the public purse. Usually only products with good market potential will make their way to corporate boardrooms for consideration. Companies funding research remain a rarity. As shown in the World Academic Summit Innovation Index by Times Higher Education, Hong Kong ranks 20th out of 30 in terms of business funding for research, lagging behind most Asian countries.
Our government recognises the problem and launched a special scheme in April 2010 to encourage a closer partnership between business and universities. Companies are to receive up to a 30 per cent cash rebate on its investment in research projects. There are 36 applications in the first nine months of 2012-13, up 57 per cent from the previous year. However, the number is still small. In February, the finance chief announced a new three-year funding scheme to enhance technology transfer. It is to be hoped that businesses and the public can benefit more from the fruits of research.
Our spending on research and development reached HK$13.3 billion by 2010. But it is dwarfed when measured against gross domestic product, especially when compared internationally. It accounts for a mere 0.76 per cent of our GDP, compared to 2.88 per cent in the US and Korea's 3.74 per cent.
It is not helpful if research and discoveries stay inside the ivory tower. Companies, instead of picking only projects with good business prospect, can be more generous in sponsorship.