Hong Kong is wasting its heavy investment in training science and engineering students because such talents are not valued in a city where banks and property developers make the real money, several academics have warned. 'We have no problem attracting the talent, but have lagged far behind in making the most out of them - that is to say keeping them working here,' said Professor Zheng Yongping of Polytechnic University's biomedical engineering division. 'There's a mismatch. 'Compared to finance and property, innovative technology is really worth a smidgeon to the city,' he said. In the nearly 10 years Zheng has been in Hong Kong, all his non-local graduate students have gone either to the mainland or overseas for 'jobs that are non-existent in Hong Kong', he said. At least three other engineering professors, including the university's vice-president, Alex Wai Ping-kong, have complained about the same issue. 'I just feel sorry for Hong Kong. For me, it's a good thing as long as I have good students to work with. For students, it's good because many of them get scholarships. But there isn't much in it for Hong Kong,' Zheng said. Some of Singapore's graduate scholarships come with the caveat that the subsidised students must stay there and work for three years, but Hong Kong does not have such a requirement. 'Would the Hong Kong government impose such a requirement? Of course not. There simply aren't any jobs for engineering graduates here,' Zheng said. Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa recognised the mismatch shortly after the 1997 handover, seeing a need to broaden the city's economic focus beyond the finance, services and tourism sectors. Tung wanted to establish the city as an innovation and technology hub. During his first term, the government proposed a number of projects, including a science and technology park and a Chinese medicine centre. Expenditure on the Innovation and Technology Fund, which gives funding to university research, has risen strongly, from HK$483 million in 2007 to an estimated HK$783 million this financial year. In addition, there have been a lot more patent applications, and more articles have appeared in academic journals. Yet these projects have not translated into significantly more research and development jobs: about 24,100 people worked full-time in the field in 2010, compared to about 23,000 in 2006, and 12,890 in 2002, according to the most recent official figures. Expenditure on research and development has not increased much either. It accounted for 0.76 per cent of the gross domestic product in 2010, 0.81 per cent in 2006 - the most ever - and 0.59 per cent in 2002. 'These are grand projects that sound better than they really are,' Zheng said of government initiatives. 'Nobody, including the government, believes we can achieve anything in innovative technology. It's only because everyone else is doing it, the government feels it has to do it, too. 'Graduates have no choice but to leave Hong Kong. I hope Leung Chun-ying can do something about the structural issues,' he said. The chief executive promised in his election manifesto that he would double investment in research and development over five years. He also promised to increase investment in technology infrastructure, in particular mobile internet platforms and data-processing centres. Zheng cited an example of how the government's current mindset does not help researchers: anyone is eligible for a government subsidy of HK$100,000 via the Patent Application Grant, but must declare that neither the applicant nor his or her company have owned patents before. 'This is rather silly, when you think about it,' he said. 'Are you trying to boost innovative ideas or to give away money?' He suggested that more grant money should be given to promising ideas, rather than distributing it equally among those subsidised. 'This is fairness, but stupid fairness that doesn't help us nurture our talent,' he said. Zheng said the Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance Programme was another example of a misguided approach. It provides technology entrepreneurs and small enterprises carrying out research with a grant of up to HK$6 million. Up to the end of April, more than HK$390 million had been given out for 355 projects. The grant money is to be recouped from the revenues from the project funded, or from third-party investments made in the company. In theory, 5 per cent of gross revenue and 10 per cent of any investment is to be returned until the subsidy is repaid in full. But Zheng said many company bosses take the grant, use it up, and shut the company down. They then open another company without any support - or obligations. 'There must be companies that comply with the rule, but I believe they are a small minority.' Zheng thinks the rule should be changed, so companies do not have to return the subsidy, but do have to promise to create a set number of jobs. In the US or Canada, for instance, such subsidies required nothing back, he said. 'Isn't our policy a case of focusing too much on fairness, and missing the ultimate goal?'