City lags behind other developed economies in research despite HK$18b budget injection Hong Kong remains at the 'bottom of the pile' when its public research funding is compared with that of other developed economies, despite the government's multibillion-dollar funding injection this week, leading academics have said. The government revealed its plans to establish an HK$18 billion research endowment fund and an extra 800 research postgraduate places in Wednesday's budget, but the academics said more funding was needed before the city could catch up with other developed countries. University of Hong Kong pro-vice-chancellor Paul Tam Kwong-hang said Hong Kong would still lag behind most developed economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development even after this week's funding increase. 'Hong Kong is still right down at the bottom of the pile,' he said. In 2005, research and development funding from both public and private sources represented 0.79 per cent of Hong Kong's gross domestic product, lagging behind the mainland's 1.34 per cent. Professor Tam said Sweden invested 3.9 per cent of its national income in research, Japan invested 3.2 per cent and Singapore 2.8 per cent. 'Hong Kong is way below the 2.3 per cent [average] as compared with other developed countries,' he said. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's acting vice-president for research and development Tony Eastham said the extra investment would take Hong Kong closer to the level of funding invested in research in countries such as Finland, Sweden, Singapore and Taiwan. However, he said, 'it's not going to get us to 1 per cent' of GDP. The extra research funding has been widely praised by local universities, with many hopeful it will help attract more scholars ahead of the switch to four-year university degrees in 2012. Professor Tam believed the extra money would help Hong Kong consolidate its position as a regional education hub, but said: 'We're trying to catch up and this should be the first of many bold steps for us to compete on an equal footing.' The HK$18 billion fund, which still has to be approved by the Legislative Council, is expected to generate a 5 per cent, or HK$900 million, annual investment return. The projected return is almost 50 per cent more than the HK$612 million allocated to the eight publicly-funded tertiary institutions for the 2007-8 academic year. With universities keen to expand their research capabilities, the extra 800 research postgraduate places are likely to be fiercely contested. Professor Eastham said HKUST was capable of taking on at least 200 more research postgraduate students on a competitive bidding basis. He also pledged to diversify the student population at the university, which has one of the city's highest proportions of mainland students. 'It's not as healthy as it could be to rely on the mainland as a source of students,' he said. Professor Tam said HKU would be looking to get 700 more research postgraduate students in the next few years. He suggested the government draw up a plan to encourage research donations from industry and private sources. Announcing the funding, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said diversified research and development activities were essential to sustain economic growth and enhance competitiveness.