Local university researchers now have more opportunities to collaborate with their French counterparts as a result of a funding agreement between the SAR and France. A joint research scheme was recently agreed to by the Research Grants Council (RGC) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (National Centre for Scientific Research). The scheme aims to encourage more co-operation between junior researchers working in similar projects in hard science and technology, according to Jean-Luc Bonefacino, science attache at the French Consulate-General which is involved in running the scheme. The RGC will invite applications to join the scheme from UGC-funded institutions in the coming weeks after finalising details of the agreement. The pilot scheme will support about 10 projects with $500,000 for the academic year starting September. Funding covers travel and basic expenses and accommodation for up to three weeks in France or Hong Kong. 'Depending on the success of the scheme, funds may be doubled or tripled next year to benefit a larger number of researchers,' Mr Bonefacino said. He said the scheme would enhance research by giving scientists and engineers a chance to work together and co-operate on future projects. RGC's deputy secretary, Marcus Tsui Kit-yuan, said: 'We are very pleased with the French interest in collaborating with our researchers . . . we look forward to long-term co-operation to promote research culture [in the SAR]'. The council was also looking at expanding co-operation to research other than hard science and engineering. Jean-Luc Maslin, consul for science and culture at the French consulate, said the scheme was a step towards reaching a level of co-operation equal to that France enjoyed with the mainland. 'In recent years, we have established programmes for advanced research and exchange of expertise with China, where the ranking of France as the fourth country in the world in terms of research and technology is widely known. 'The scheme will help increase awareness among Hong Kong scholars of the many opportunities for co-operation, whether with the National Centre for Scientific Research or other French institutions,' he said. The National Centre for Scientific Research, which works under the French Ministry for Research, assesses and carries out research in pure sciences, technology, life sciences, the environment and social sciences. It also commissions research, supports training of researchers and initiates overseas co- operation. The centre, which had a budget of Ffr14.7 billion (HK$18.8 billion) last year, employs about 26,000 people including 11,000 researchers. Mr Maslin said there was a misconception that language provided a communication barrier for joint research projects. 'All academics in France speak English and up to the level required for English-language research journals where their work is published,' he said. The joint research scheme is the third agreement of its type the SAR has entered into after ventures with Britain and Germany. The agreement with Britain now runs at a budget of $3 million and involves 50 projects, while the SAR-Germany scheme funds 30 projects with $1.8 million.