Universities in Hong Kong

If Hong Kong wants to become an innovation hub, government needs to double research funding, task force says

Report suggests setting up council to oversee planning and policy, while increasing support for R&D

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 9:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 3:50pm

As Hong Kong seeks to develop itself into an innovation hub, a task force reviewing research funding has recommended doubling the government’s input and setting up a steering council to oversee planning and policy.

The task force – set up by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng ­Yuet-ngor last year – announced seven proposals as it launched a consultation with stakeholders and the public on Wednesday. It is ­collecting views up to July 10.

Presenting an interim report, chairman Professor Tsui Lap-chee said one suggestion was for the government to provide more support to R&D development with a view to doubling overall competitive research funding in Hong Kong from about HK$2 billion to HK$4 billion (US$509.7 million) a year by 2022.

He said this would include doubling funding by the Research Grants Council (RGC), which allocates finance to institutions, from HK$1 billion to HK$2 billion over the same period.

“We want to let the youth know that R&D is the future of Hong Kong,” Tsui said, adding he was confident the government could achieve the target since it was “a small amount”.

The report pointed out that the amount spent on R&D ranged between 0.72 per cent and 0.79 per cent of the city’s gross domestic product from 2011 to 2016. This was well below the world average of 2.2 per cent in 2015, according to World Bank data.

On the back of Lam’s pledge to double this ratio to 1.5 per cent by 2022, it added, overall funding for competitive research should also be doubled.

Other government research funding sources include the Innovation and Technology Commission and Food and Health Bureau.

Lack of innovation and incentives holding back Hong Kong from smart city status

The task force suggested injecting substantial funds in RGC’s Research Endowment Fund, of which the investment income is one of the main funding sources for institutions for research, to make up the current shortfall due to the reduction in the annual rate of return. But on the actual amount, Tsui said it was up to the government to decide.

In last year’s policy address, the government set aside no less than HK$10 billion as funding for university research, which is to be disbursed upon completion of the task force’s review.

The University Grants Committee said last year it needed an extra HK$12 billion to maintain its level of support for universities. The RGC is a non-statutory advisory council operating under the University Grants Committee.

The city’s eight public universities welcomed the recommendations. The acting president of the University of Hong Kong, ­Professor Paul Tam Kwong-hang, said: “We are encouraged by the proposed initiatives and will tender our views to the task force during the consultation period.”