Academics want think tank to back away

Group says it will jeopardise their research if policy unit controls funds

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2013, 5:17am

A group of 400 academics have handed a petition to the government calling on its top think tank to reverse a decision to take over management of a public research funding scheme.

Spokesman and Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said they feared research, methodology and publication of findings would be interfered with if the Central Policy Unit took control of the Public Policy Research Funding Scheme. Chan is also an associate professor of government and international studies at Baptist University.

The scheme, which until last month was administered by the Research Grants Council (RGC), has been a key source of funds for social scientists since it was set up in 2005, aiming to boost policy research. It has dispensed HK$20 million annually, and last year it sponsored 25 projects.

The academics, from local universities and tertiary institutions, raised fears that their freedom to carry out research would be compromised after Central Policy Unit head Shiu Sin-por announced in November that the think tank would take control of the scheme from the 2013-14 fiscal year. Many academics worried they might end up carrying out propaganda work for the government instead of research.

After giving the petition to a government representative yesterday, Chan said: "We are going to lose the chance to speak the truth, our academic freedom or even that of our society." The academics doubted whether the Central Policy Unit will be neutral in granting funding to public policy research, "going on what Shiu Sin-por has said publicly."

The group wants the original funding model retained and said the policy unit had yet to explain why the change was being made.

Chan said he was disappointed Siu and think tank consultant, Professor Wong Chack-kie, had declined invitations to attend a public forum on the issue at City University this Sunday: "The academic community can't accept this kind of complacency and reluctance to engage in dialogue."

He called on academics to join a boycott of the scheme.

Professor Stephen Chan Ching-Kiu of Lingnan University and Chinese University political scientists Ma Ngok and Ivan Choy Chi-keung are among those who signed the petition.