HK’s Research Grants Council striving to keep standards high

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 5:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 9:33pm

I refer to recent media reports on the Research Grants Council (RGC)’s handling of conflicts of interest, as well as other issues flagged by the Audit Commission.

The University Grants Committee (UGC) and RGC thank the Audit Commission for its recommendations, which we broadly accept. We would, however, like to address a possible misperception from the media coverage, that RGC members may have breached the declaration of interests system to approve their own applications.

As an independent and non-statutory body which advises the Hong Kong government on the funding and strategic development of our higher education sector, UGC strives to be exemplary in our roles, governance, transparency and operational procedures.

Members of the RGC assessment committees or panels are required to declare their interests before they assess applications, and will be excluded from the process if they have declared interests.

Our investigations show that there were no conflicts of interest when the council approved the overall funding amounts at the meetings concerned, as the identities of the recommended projects’ holders were not made known, and individual projects were not examined. The council deals with matters of policy and strategy.

Further, starting from June 2015 when the council received the reports from the assessment committee or panel chairmen, council members have excused themselves from the meetings if they had submitted applications, to avoid any perceived conflict of interest. The UGC secretariat will ensure that members’ register of interest forms continue to be submitted and updated in a timely manner.

After taking up the UGC chairmanship, I have attended the RGC’s assessment committees and panels, and have been very impressed with the robustness of the peer review mechanism, also widely adopted by international research funding agencies.

The UGC works closely with universities, the government and the community to establish Hong Kong as the region’s leading education hub, and to nurture talent to promote our city’s development. The fact that Hong Kong is now one of the very few cities in the world that is home to several global top-ranking universities attests to the success of the UGC-funded sector, since the committee’s establishment in 1965.

In addition, the UGC began a review of the RGC early this year. We look forward to the recommendations of the consultancy study, which will provide insights for continuous improvement.

Carlson Tong, chairman, University Grants Committee