A leading astrophysicist and one of the world's top experts on 'black holes' has called on the Government to restore a more balanced approach to research funding. Hong Kong University physics professor Cheng Kwong-sang said funding had swung to applied research - especially in information technology - with the Government's drive to make Hong Kong a hi-tech hub. 'Basic research is the root from which applications spring - it is the backbone. You can't just say you will get all the results from overseas,' he said. 'If you keep doing that, we will fall behind, even in application research.' Professor Cheng said the first half of the 1990s was a boom time for basic research when the territory moved from having two universities to seven. But the funding pendulum had now swung in favour of applied research. He is one of 10 scientists chosen as this year's Croucher senior research fellows and the only specialist in Hong Kong who carries out full-time study on neutron stars and 'black holes'. Fellows are freed of teaching duties for one year to concentrate on their studies. The Croucher Foundation in Hong Kong pays for a replacement teacher during that time. The foundation is a private funding body that offers grants to researchers and teachers, mainly in science, technology and medicine. 'There are not many physics students to begin with and even fewer people who work in astrophysics, which doesn't have a great deal of territorial applications,' Professor Cheng said. The University Grants Committee said it awarded block grants to universities, which were free to allocate the money themselves so there was no question of discriminating against basic research. 'We don't even distinguish in our funding statistics between basic and application research,' a committee official said.