Hong Kong's investment in scientific research lags other developed economies in the region as well as the mainland partly because of a lack of contributions from industry, according to the former chairman of the Research Grants Council, Roland Chin Tai-hong.
"If you look at other countries, less than half [of the research investment] comes from the government. The majority of it comes from industry. If we had industries … that contributed 0.8 [per cent], it [the total] would be more than one [per cent], which is not bad," he said, pointing to annual research investment that amounted to 0.72 per cent of gross domestic product in 2011.
East Asian countries have in recent years increased scientific research by increasing government investments and lobbying for corporate support. Research investments in Japan and South Korea have passed three per cent, he said.
Chin stepped down from the Research Grant Council this month after having served the body for eight years. The council funds most university-level research projects in the city.
As long as the lack of funding hinders big projects, Hong Kong is unlikely to leapfrog others in technology research.
"Our talents are not competitive enough, our size is small, rent is high and our labour cost is high," he said, adding that the majority of research graduates in Hong Kong's universities come from the mainland.
Chin said the government should co-operate with industries and the financial sector to kick-start development of niche projects. "We can only do something that others are not currently doing."
The Research Grants Council was set up in 1991 as a key advisory body for the government on fund allocation for scientific research in universities.
The funding pool has grown from HK$100 million at the beginning to today's HK$1 billion, Chin said.