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LCQ19: The manpower of academic staff of universities
     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Priscilla Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Dr Choi Yuk-lin, in the Legislative Council today (May 17):
     According to the latest statistics from the University Grants Committee (UGC), the eight UGC-funded universities lost a total of 361 academic staff members in the 2021-2022 academic year, which accounted for 7.4 per cent of the total number of academic staff and represented a record high in 25 years. It is learnt that some academic staff departed because they switched to work in other countries or regions. Regarding the manpower of academic staff of the UGC-funded universities, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the number of academic staff who left the UGC-funded universities and switched to work in other countries or regions in the 2021-2022 academic year;
(2) of the current number of vacancies of academic staff in the eight UGC-funded universities;
(3) of the policies in place for retaining teaching talents in the UGC-funded universities; and
(4) of the policies in place for attracting teaching talents from universities around the world?
     The consolidated reply to the question raised by Dr the Hon Priscilla Leung is set out below:
     The eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities are independent statutory bodies established pursuant to their respective ordinances. The recruitment of academic staff is a matter within the autonomy of these universities. According to the figures provided by the universities, there are a total of 4 979 academic staff members in the 2021/22 academic year, representing an increase of 145 or about 3 per cent as compared to 4 829 academic staff members in the 2020/21 academic year. The number of outgoing academic staff members may include those who joined other local institutions during the same period. The UGC Secretariat does not collect statistics on outgoing staff members' post-service employment or the vacancies of the funded universities.
     The UGC-funded universities have all along been conducting global recruitment campaigns of scholars in accordance with their institutional development strategies in order to consolidate their global competitive edge. Since the deregulation of the UGC-funded university salary scales by the Government in 2003, universities have been given the flexibility to devise the remuneration packages of their academic staff members to effectively retain experienced local academics, and to actively recruit outstanding academics from the Mainland and overseas to Hong Kong. With the passing of the pandemic, Hong Kong's resumption of quarantine-free travels with the rest of the world will facilitate and strengthen the flexibility and competitiveness of the universities in recruiting Mainland and overseas academics, and further enhance the standard of teaching and research aspects of the universities.
     The Government has also been adopting a multi-pronged approach in recent years to assist in bolstering the talent pool of the higher education sector. On retaining talents, the Research Grants Council (RGC) has launched the RGC Research Fellow Scheme and the RGC Senior Research Fellow Scheme in the 2019/20 academic year to provide outstanding achievements at Associate Professor and full Professor levels with continuous support on teaching and administrative matters (such as through the appointment of relief lecturers). This will suitably ease the non-research workload of academics, and allow them to focus on research and development work as well as to nurture the next generation of researchers for Hong Kong. Since the launch of the two schemes, 30 academics have been awarded respectively.
     On attracting talents, the Government launched the Global STEM Professorship Scheme in June 2021 with the objectives of supporting the universities to offer more competitive terms of appointment to attract internationally renowned STEM scholars and their teams to Hong Kong; aiding universities to scale new heights in teaching and research activities; and expanding the local innovation and technology talent pool. The Scheme aims to support up to 100 scholars in total. In the first four tranches of application, more than 80 Global STEM Scholars have been selected, and about 40 of them have already started their teaching and research in their respective universities in Hong Kong, with the remaining scholars expected to commence appointment gradually before end-2024.
     On nurturing talents, the RGC launched the RGC Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme in 2019 to provide support for promising young researchers, so as to encourage local doctoral graduates to engage in research and attract non-local doctoral graduates to develop their research careers in Hong Kong. Since its launch, the scheme has successfully attracted 147 doctoral graduates to stay in/come to Hong Kong to pursue their research careers, of whom 105 are non-local awardees.
     From a macro perspective, higher education is a highly internationalised sector, and competition among universities for outstanding academics is always fierce. When choosing whether to come to Hong Kong to pursue an academic career, apart from considering the remuneration packages, academics will also attach importance to the academic status and international reputation of the universities, the teaching and research environment and atmosphere, as well as the overall resource availability and public commitment of the higher education sector. The Government's investment in higher education has been increasing in recent years. In addition to the annual recurrent funding and the above initiatives, the Government has also taken a number of measures to consolidate the future development of universities, such as injecting $20 billion into the Research Endowment Fund, setting aside $16 billion to refurbish and enhance university campus facilities, and increasing the number of publicly-funded research postgraduate places, which has strengthened the academic status of our higher education sector and is conducive in making Hong Kong the only city in the world with five of the world's top 100 universities. The Government will continue to invest in higher education so that Hong Kong can continue to play the role as a regional education hub, and attract outstanding academics to make contributions to Hong Kong.
Ends/Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:00
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