A rift has emerged among academics over a likely proposal by a government-appointed review group to change the funding mechanism for universities. The group is headed by Lord Sutherland, a member of the University Grants Committee (UGC) and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh. It is known to be in favour of distributing funding on the basis of areas of research excellence, rather than research output, to reduce duplication in work funded by taxpayers' money. Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower Clement Leung Cheuk-man said the Government hoped that universities could have clear missions and focus on their areas of strength, although he declined to comment on the proposals, due to be published by May. But the applied physics and materials science department at City University (CityU) has warned in a statement that dropping the present model could kill competition in academia and push Hong Kong's 'research and education level 10 years backward'. The department's Professor Yeshayahu Lifshitz said institutions could see an outflow of top teaching staff recruited from abroad should funding be cut. 'The present system works and [has] created excellent research,' he said. Quoting UGC statistics, the department claimed that CityU had made more effective use of research money, given its substantial number of published articles in academic journals in recent years. CityU came third in the number of engineering projects awarded the earmarked research grant by the Research Grants Council for 2001-02, after the University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and the Polytechnic University (PolyU). PolyU vice-president Suleyman Demokan maintained that research projects currently under way complemented one another. 'In all higher education institutions, there should be funds distributed to support all areas of research to a small extent,' he said. The vast majority of the more than 60 chair professors at CityU have also signed a joint statement, to be published in two newspapers on Monday, calling for a fair fund allocation mechanism. Chair professor in political science Joseph Cheng Yu-shek said: 'We do not want any labelling of universities, as either a teaching or research institution. We want our areas of strength to be recognised and that there will be a fair competition for funding.' Others think there has been a wasteful overlapping of resources, blurring the differentiation between institutions. Director of the Centre for Economic Development at HKUST, Francis Lui Ting-ming, argued that research output was no guarantee of performance because of the wide variations in the standards of academic journals. He favoured a concentration of funds in a few research-led institutions. 'Some should focus on teaching and only applied research to keep themselves up to date on the latest knowledge,' he said.