About Us General Research Landscape Research Cases Research Funding Schemes Common Tips for Application Career Development
About Us General Research Landscape Research Cases Research Funding Schemes Common Tips for Application Career Development

General Research Landscape

General Research Landscape

Hong Kong has evolved from a small fishing village into a flourishing international financial centre, converging top talents and technologies from across the world. In line with the shifting era, Hong Kong continues to move towards a knowledge-based economy. That is why innovative research is a closely linked and inseparable part of society’s overall development. 

What is the purpose of research? Research improves our lives and propels social progress – it is also an indicator of a society’s degree of civilisation. On the one hand, research creates and discovers new knowledge to satisfy humanity’s pursuit of knowledge and spirituality; on the other, research transforms and applies knowledge to improve our quality of life. Although the impact of research may not always be immediate, it is far-reaching and significant. Therefore, high-quality and continuous research can bring a strong impetus to society. Its impact goes beyond the academic world, bringing substantial contributions and positive influences to the economy, our community, culture, public policies or services, public health, the environment or our quality of life.

Research is not restricted to universities; it is closely related to our daily lives. For example, the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, e-commerce, and robotics, which have been booming in recent years, have not only improved our lives but can also apply to different contexts. These are based on various well-developed research and studies. On the other hand, research helps us respond to special situations, such as understanding social situation, reacting to natural disasters, and preventing epidemics. At the same time, research facilitates cooperation between Hong Kong and other countries. Through exchanges on knowledge and technology, Hong Kong's research achievements are shared with the international community. As such, research helps us to advance our civilisation, understand the present and think about the future, and at the same time, reflects and enhances Hong Kong’s soft powers as an international city.

Basic, Applied and Translational Research

Research is a continuous process and can hardly be divided into stages. However, in terms of research funding, research is usually categorised as: basic, applied and translational research:


Basic Research

Aims to create knowledge and provide support to researchers to conceive innovative research ideas


Applied Research

Goal-oriented, aiming to acquire knowledge for practical purposes and apply knowledge in actual situations


Translational Research

Transform research results into useful products

We can interpret the three types of researches with the analogy of rivers. Upstream represents basic research, mid-stream represents applied research, and downstream represents translational research:

Basic research can be regarded as the starting point of research, focusing on exploring new knowledge. This kind of research emphasises more academic achievements and is mainly conducted by UGC-funded universities in Hong Kong. Applied research focuses on application, which often requires the determination of market orientation and consumer behaviour. Translational research focuses on practicality, which we can understand as R&D and produces products that meet the community's needs.

As Asia’s World City, Hong Kong faces the world and connects the world with the Mainland. Hong Kong’s unique position, integrating Chinese and Western cultures, not only promotes international exchange but also brings abundant opportunities for research in Hong Kong. Local universities in Hong Kong have consistently displayed outstanding performance in world university rankings, reflecting their academic standards and scientific research capabilities. Our research capabilities, talents, international perspective and protection of intellectual property rights have attracted top talents from all over the world to join the research sector in Hong Kong. This has enabled Hong Kong's research to flourish in the past few decades, and the number of R&D personnel in Hong Kong has also increased as a consequence.

Number of R&D personnel





Number of R&D personnel (in full-time equivalent) 2016 2017 2018 2019
Overall R&D personnel 31,282 (+4%) 32,355 (+3%) 33,577 (+4%) 35,416 (+5%)
Business sector 12,318 (+0.8%) 12,792 (+4%) 13,156 (+3%) 13,748 (+4%)
Higher education sector 18,134 (+5%) 18,655 (+3%) 19,482 (+4%) 20,643 (+6%)
Government sector 830 (+18%) 908 (+9%) 938 (+3%) 1,025 (+9%)


Strengthening support for researchers' work and fostering a research culture can help promote the development of the research sector, thereby enhancing Hong Kong’s long-term competitiveness and maintaining our position as a world-class city.

The Government develops strategies and initiatives to create a comprehensive R&D policy framework to ensure Hong Kong remains technologically and economically equipped for future challenges. Various funding agencies run funding schemes supporting research in different fields such as natural sciences, engineering, medical and health sciences, social sciences, and humanities and the arts.

In the 2017 Policy Address, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the Government targets to double the Gross Domestic Expenditure (GDE) on R&D as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) i.e. from 0.73% to 1.5% by the end of the current Government’s five-year term of office i.e. 2022. To achieve this goal, the Government launched various new initiatives in R&D investment, talent development, infrastructure, as well as promoting research cooperation. These include:

According to the Hong Kong Innovation Activities Statistics 2019 conducted by the Census and Statistics Department, the gross domestic expenditure on R&D of Hong Kong [i.e. total expenditure on in-house R&D activities performed locally in the business sector, higher education sector and government sector (including public technology support organisations)] amounted to $26,333 million, representing an increase of 8% when compared with 2018. The GERD as a ratio to GDP increased from 0.83% in 2017 to 0.86% in 2018.

Expenditure on in-house R&D in the higher education sector has been on a rising trend in recent years. In 2019, expenditure on in-house R&D in the higher education sector reached $13,432 million, up by 9% when compared with 2018. Expenditure on in-house R&D in the government sector (mainly public technology support organisations) amounted to $1,284 million in 2019, up by 12% when compared with 2018.

Hong Kong has many outstanding scientific research talents. To fully unleash our strengths in research and promote technology transfer as well as the realisation of R&D results, the Government will proactively nurture and continue to attract research talents through providing additional resources and reviewing relevant policies and measures.

These are the funding agencies offering funding schemes:

The Public Policy Research Funding Scheme and the Strategic Public Policy Research (SPPR) Funding Scheme are government-financed funding schemes dedicated to fostering and supporting public policy research in Hong Kong. Both Schemes aim to promote public policy research and evidence-based research to facilitate public policy discussion.  Specifically, the SPPR Funding Scheme aims to support longer-term public policy research on strategic themes, build up research capacity and facilitate collaboration among institutions/think tanks on the strategic themes.

The Education Bureau is responsible for formulating, developing and reviewing policies, programmes, and legislation in respect of education from pre-primary to tertiary level. The Bureau is committed to supporting academic research in the higher education sector through the University Grant Council.

The objective of the Environment and Conservation Fund is to promote individual behavioural and lifestyle changes to protect the environment and achieve sustainable development, and develop or introduce innovative technologies and practices to improve the environment and conserve resources. The key funding schemes are Community Waste Reduction, Environmental Education and Community Action and Environmental Research, Technology Demonstration and Conference.

The Health and Medical Research Fund aims to build research capacity and to encourage, facilitate, and support health and medical research to inform health policies, improve population health, strengthen the health system, enhance healthcare practices, advance standard and quality of care, and promote clinical excellence, through the generation and application of evidence-based scientific knowledge derived from local research in health and medicine. It also provides funding support for evidence-based health promotion projects that help people adopt healthier lifestyles by enhancing awareness, changing adverse health behaviours or creating a conducive environment that supports good health practices.

The Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF), administered by the Innovation and Technology Commission, aims to increase the added value, productivity, and competitiveness of our economic activities. The Government hopes that, through the ITF, Hong Kong companies could be encouraged and assisted to upgrade their technological level and introduce innovative ideas to their businesses. There are different programmes under the ITF, providing funding support aimed at supporting research and development, facilitating technology adoption, nurturing technology talent, supporting technology start-ups, and fostering an I&T culture.

The University Grant Committee provides recurrent funding to universities for research projects and activities through two main sources: block grants deployed for research activities; and earmarked research grants through the Research Grants Council (RGC) on a competitive basis.  The research element of the block grant funding is primarily designed to ensure the existence of appropriate research infrastructure in universities to facilitate research-informed teaching, and research itself – through the provision of academic staff, technical/support staff and equipment/resources.  Individual earmarked grants through the RGC allow the pursuit of research projects of a size that cannot be accommodated under the block grant.