ACADEMIC FREEDOMS

Scholars express concern over Central Policy Unit's control of research fund

Central Policy Unit's control of big research fund may lead to 'officially approved' studies, they say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 7:28am

Academics from eight universities have launched a signature campaign demanding the government gave back to scholars oversight power over a public policy research fund.

They urged professors and researchers to join the campaign, which they described as a fight for academic freedom. The academics fear that an earlier decision by the Central Policy Unit to directly manage the fund, worth HK$20 million a year, could turn academic research into propaganda work for the government.

The fund - previously managed by the Research Grants Council headed by a Hong Kong University scholar - supports research on local-level public polices, ranging from mental health protection to bus depot deployment. Some projects that have received funding include politically sensitive issues such as how to nurture political talent for a democracy.

The academics fear that if control is switched to the Central Policy Unit, the top official think tank, resources will be directed towards projects the authorities want to see.

The academics cited the recent controversy over two research works - "the Blue Book" and "the China Model" - as examples of what may come if the government could direct funding to research organisations that are friendly to it.

The Blue Book was compiled by the Advanced Institute for Contemporary China Studies of Baptist University. It caused a furore as it accused Chinese University of "allowing the instillation of Western values".

The "China Model" is a national education teaching material in which the Communist Party was portrayed as running the country selflessly. It too caused public protests.

"With the mechanism centralised, how can independent studies survive?" asked Fung Wai-wah, the president of Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union. "We fear there is an increasing trend where many groups that get funding from the authorities do not produce work that can stand up to [academic scrutiny]," Fung said.