Since most right-thinking people ignore Hong Kong’s annual policy address, no-one noticed the vomit-inducing phrase ‘post-doctoral hub’ in Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s 2017 speech. But there it was, in paragraph 72 (here, if you’re really bored).
The visionary idea now becomes a reality. The taxpayer will give companies HK$32,000 a month for hiring PhD ‘talent’. Silicon Valley’s top brains will swarm here, and Hong Kong will then flourish as a space-age STEM Tech Innovation mega-zone. (There’s a parallel scheme called the ‘Reindustrialization blah-blah Thing’, which trains 10-year-olds to assemble plastic flowers.)
The good news is that the scheme follows a familiar self-defeating loop pattern. The bureaucrats announce a grand-sounding benefit with a hefty budget, but impose so many conditions that few applicants ultimately succeed in getting their hands on the money.
Curiously, the companies concerned must already be receiving government handouts, either through a (different, existing) funding system or through cheap rents at science parks. This suggests that small start-ups that might in theory benefit from some help with salaries can get lost. Also, you have to hire someone with an actual science/tech PhD from an approved list of World’s Top 100 Oh-So High-Class Universities. Self-taught basement-dwelling geek geniuses (or anyone who went to a riffraff school in a developing country) won’t do.
So taxpayers can relax – not much chance of serious fiscal harm.
The South China Morning Post digs up loads of experts whining for yet more handouts, but also suggests that the new subsidies might lure researchers out of universities into commercial (or at least trying-to-be) enterprises. It also mentions a Shenzhen policy of offering overseas ‘talent’ zillions of yuan, plus housing, neck massages for pets, etc.
Sadly, the papers do not ask the government what they are actually trying to do here. The official premise is that there is a worldwide scramble for ‘talent’ and a ‘global innovation and technology race’, and Hong Kong must take part. But is there? And must we?
Firstly, what do they mean by ‘tech’? Is it the search for Nobel-winning breakthroughs in quantum physics and molecular biology? In which case, can Hong Kong seriously ever be a player? Or is it just apps that do old things in new ways, like ‘fintech’ instead of a bank, or Taobao instead of the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalog? In which case, where do PhDs come in?
Most of all, why is government so obsessed with Hong Kong’s ‘competitiveness’ in specific sectors? If it’s not inno-tech, Hong Kong has to be a creative industry hub, a medical tourism hub, a Chinese medicine hub, a wine hub, cruise hub, etc. (Another in the pipeline is ‘maritime leasing’, because we are failing to keep up with the Marshall Islands.) If it’s scumbags looking for tax-breaks or cheap land, why are officials so receptive? If it’s a genuine problem with Hong Kong’s attraction as a place to live and do business, why not fix the housing, air, schools? (Dumb question.)
If you still want to apply, you go through the Innovation and Technology Commission Funding Administrative System. And yes, it’s password-protected! Can’t make this up.