The government plans to spend HK$80 million over the next four years to foster more public policy research at universities. This is on top of HK$60 million set aside since 2005 under the Public Policy Research Funding Scheme, which aims to boost Hong Kong's policy making capabilities. To date, one of 61 projects funded under the three-year scheme has been completed. Funds for the scheme are allocated to the Central Policy Unit (CPU), the government's think-tank, but administered by the Research Grants Council of the University Grants Committee. The head of the CPU, Lau Siu-kai, acknowledged that think-tanks were underdeveloped in Hong Kong, relative to other countries and territories in the region. But, he said, Hong Kong was entering a new stage of development that would be favourable to policy research studies and the formation of think-tanks. 'The reason we provide the money is to induce academics to look at matters from a non-governmental perspective so that we can make use of their imagination and creativity.' The government increasingly wanted to see its policies based on research rather than just opinions, or demands from different groups. 'Hong Kong is changing so fast. We need research and ideas desperately. Given the fact that people are now more practically oriented and less enamoured of ideological or emotional fights, they are now more receptive to new ideas,' he said. There was 'a certain sense of crisis', Professor Lau added, as to whether Hong Kong was losing competitiveness and being marginalised by the mainland's quick development. 'Hong Kong is probing our new direction of development in view of the changes. We need bold and innovative ideas,' he said. Professor Lau said policy ideas were increasingly coming to senior officials directly from people outside the government, such as political parties, political analysts, the media and academics. In addition, there are 29 think-tanks in Hong Kong, according to the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, which monitors think-tanks globally. Some local think-tanks have said their influence on policy has been reflected in various chief executive policy addresses and in other ways. Professor Lau said they were still not on a scale to be considered seriously and 'the think-tanks so far cannot be said to be very influential in our community'. The CPU has increased the number of internal and commissioned studies it handles by 'at least fivefold in the past five years', Professor Lau says. In the same period, the CPU had contracted out 85 consultancy studies worth nearly HK$33 million. 'I want to depend on our own professors and our own researchers as much as possible because one of our purposes is to develop our policy research capacity,' he said. 'Given that we are more interested in economic, social and political affairs, we think that local academics and researchers are in a better position to do that kind of research for us.' He said the 'ideas' market in Hong Kong was not yet developed. 'People really do not appeal to ideas for political support. We have a lot of appeal based on emotions, based on ideologies, based on personal animosities.' He believed that as people eventually became 'more accommodated' to Hong Kong being part of China, there would be less controversy over the city's future and its relationship with the central government. At that point, he said, practical challenges 'which are quite serious in Hong Kong and which have always been concerns in the minds of many people' would rise to the fore. 'People will expect our politicians, our officials to come up with useful ideas on how to deal with Hong Kong's social, economic, livelihood and developmental problems. 'If we have solid research in hand it will help us to arbitrate among different interests and to rally public support for the government because here in Hong Kong people still respect knowledge, objective ideas and research.'