Wednesday, April 6, 2011 HK$1.4m expenses bill of PhD panel queried

"Of the fellows, 62 per cent are from the mainland, 9 per cent from Hong Kong, 11 per cent from Europe and 10 per cent from other Asian countries."

HK$1.4m expenses bill of PhD panel queried

April 6, 2011
Phyllis Tsang

The University Grants Committee (UGC) is planning to spend at least HK$1.4 million this year on paying for overseas members to fly to Hong Kong to attend selection meetings for PhD Fellowship students.
Lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan questioned the expenses for the two meetings of the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Selection Panel.

In light of the comments, the UGC said it would explore the feasibility of video conferences.

Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung said in a written reply the HK$1.4 million in this year's budget was an estimate based on expenses for last year's meetings, which came to HK$1.33 million.

That included HK$1.06 million for flights and HK$170,000 for hotel rooms for the 21 non-local members who came to Hong Kong for the meetings. Suen added that the overseas members needed to attend the meetings because the 15 local academics on the panel have possible conflicts of interest when deciding on fellowship candidates.

"We will explore the feasibility of investing in such video-conferencing facilities," Suen continued, "having regard to their financial implications and cost effectiveness, as well as the quality of these facilities."

But the education bureau said that even with the best video-conferencing facilities, meetings at which members are physically present are essential.

On occasion, overseas members will need to travel to Hong Kong to get to know the committee-funded institutions and have face-to-face discussions with staff and students.

The PhD fellowship programme was launched in 2009 to attract top students from Hong Kong and around the world to study at the city's UGC-funded institutions.

A total of 2,996 applications from 100 locations were received last year. The committee offered fellowships to 148 candidates and 115 accepted.

Of the fellows, 62 per cent are from the mainland, 9 per cent from Hong Kong, 11 per cent from Europe and 10 per cent from other Asian countries. The fellowship programme cost a total last year of about HK$86.2 million.

In its reply to Ho, the bureau also said the committee's Research Grants Council held three meetings and spent HK$5 million to fly in overseas members.

The bureau said overseas members brought invaluable advice on global trends, as well as international perspectives on higher education.

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