Higher Education Research in Hong Kong – A new focus on impact

by Steve Corry
East Asia

Hong Kong is one of the world’s leading centres of business and trade, yet, by many measures, it trails behind other leading economies in research and innovation. Aware of the gap, the special administrative region’s leaders have called a greater efforts to make university research more impactful and applicable. This may open new opportunities for UK institutions to forge and deepen research partnerships with Hong Kong institutions.

Hong Kong is ranked 16th in the Global Innovation Index1, despite high ratings for its institutions, infrastructure and market sophistication. The overall ranking is dragged down by relatively poor ratings for Human capital and research (28th), knowledge and technology outputs (25th) and creative outputs (25th). The ranking places Hong Kong behind South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

In terms of government funding for research, according to World Bank data research funding share of GDP was just 0.76 percent in 2015, compared with 1.7 percent in the UK, 2.7 percent in the United States and 3.6 percent in Japan.

This idea is reinforced by Times Higher Education rankings, that score Hong Kong universities highly for citations and international outlook, but less so for research and industry income. This is in contrast with leading universities in Singapore.
Reasons for Hong Kong universities lagging in knowledge transfer have been cited by commentators2 as:
  • Lack of rewards for researchers or incentives for professors to innovate. Professors don’t have KPI’s that encourage application of research. Instead their challenges are to publish research and complete teaching hours.
  • Lack of government funding and private sector support
  • University Grants Council (UGC) funding does not incentivise collaboration with other universities

In addition to the above, the UGC reported in March of this year that its cash surplus was set to dry up in two years, meaning that funding for research would need to be cut3.

Initiatives have however been introduced in order to change the situation. In 2015 an Innovation and Technology bureau was formed, with a remit to develop Hong Kong into a knowledge-based economy4. The bureau aims to do this by building a “vibrant ecosystem for the government, industry, academia and the research sector”.

In March of this year the UGC launched the Research Impact Fund, with the aim of encouraging local universities to conduct more impactful research and engage in more collaborative efforts with stakeholders outside academia. Upon launching the fund, UGC chairman Carson Tong noted the need for a change in the local research culture, where researchers are encouraged to consider social or economic impact or commercial application at the beginning of research. The fund totals HK$50 million (£4.7 million) per year for three years; proposals that are multi-disciplinary or are problem-based will be given priority. The first call for proposals is scheduled for early 2018.

Implications for UK partnerships:

In the most recent Hong Kong government policy address in October, the new Chief Executive Carrie Lam mentioned a plan for setting up “key technology collaborative platforms” in areas where Hong Kong has strong research capability, and that this would include bringing in internationally renowned universities. While the detail of what this means is currently unclear, the increasing focus on research impact may bring opportunities for UK, including:

  • Sharing UK experience of research commercialisation with Hong Kong partners, perhaps to support their applications for funding.
  • Sharing lessons learned from Research Excellence Framework
  • Developing expertise in effective science communication
  • The Catapult Programme

When meeting with Hong Kong universities we would encourage UK universities to ask Hong Kong counterparts what new research priorities they are considering related to the launch of the Research Impact Fund. Hong Kong government priorities for economic development may be good indicators of areas of research interest.




1 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-economy

2 http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/1879236/why-hong-kong-universities-arent-turning-inventions-stuff-sells

3 http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education-community/article/2094451/hong-kong-research-funding-shortfall-hits-hk12

4 http://www.itb.gov.hk/en/about_us/role/

About the Author

Steve Corry
Business Development Manager (Education Services), East Asia
, ,
East Asia

Leading the International Education Services team in Hong Kong, as well as holding an East Asia role, Steve provides market trends and updates to UK institutions on a regular basis in support of strategic decision making on student recruitment and partnerships.

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