To remain at the forefront of global research advances, Australia needs a system with strong governance, robust peer review and genuine transparency at its core. The Australian Research Council (ARC) is fundamental to this system.
The leaders of Australia’s 39 comprehensive universities call on Government and industry to support nine principles to underpin the ARC as Australia’s premier independent agency for funding for non-medical research.
Principles to underpin a strong, respected ARC:
- Government policies, legislation and funding ensure ARC programs and processes compare favourably with leading research countries.
- The ARC is supported with adequate, long-term, indexed funding.
- ARC programs respect, value and support both fundamental and applied research.
- ARC programs respect, value and fund research across all disciplines.
- ARC funding decisions are made based on research excellence and strike a balance between fundamental research – where big ideas are generated – and both applied and translational research with potential for commercialisation.
- Ministerial decision-making respects the integrity of recommendations made by the ARC and the College of Experts, and the Ministerial veto power is removed.
- If the Ministerial veto is retained and subsequently exercised, a transparent process by which decisions are made and reported to both Parliament and the research community should be enshrined in the ARC Act.
- ARC programs are administered at a world-class level, including having experienced academics on the permanent staff of the ARC.
- The ARC has predictable timelines that respect the academic cycle and provides the certainty needed to develop partnership arrangements.
Advancing Australia – why our research system matters
Australia’s research system is one of the best in the world. The system is built on excellence, transparency and accountability. It is vital that it stays this way.
Australian university research changes lives. It has led to changes in the law to better support those affected by family violence. It has improved road safety, crop yields and health outcomes. It has enriched our understanding of our own country, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and values, and our capacity to interact meaningfully and productively with others.
Australian research has underpinned our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic: working to sequence the virus, develop vaccines and understand, advise on and respond to its social, economic and psychological impacts.
Taxpayer investment in university research brings very real returns to Australia’s economic and social wellbeing, and makes a considerable contribution to our country’s global standing and competitiveness. Modelling by Deloitte Access Economics estimated the total economic return on investment at $5 in GDP for every dollar invested in higher education research.1
Why a strong, respected ARC matters
To see these returns, we need to invest in the best ideas and people. It is a widely recognised principle of advanced economies – and their innovation and research systems – that a robust research quality assurance system, overseen by domain knowledge experts, is the best way to ensure research excellence and the wise allocation of scarce public resources.
An absence of accountability for decision-making threatens the integrity of the process, respect for the ARC as an institution and the outcomes of research.
A balanced research and innovation system
The Australian national innovation system has many elements. Some are mission-directed by Government, others determined through merit-based processes.
For national competitive grants, independent peer review is the gold standard of competitive research funding in the western world. The quality of research in Australian universities relies on both competitive funding and the indirect costs of that research being supported through the block grants to universities.
Our system is part of a highly competitive global market
It is in our national interest that Australian and international researchers, industries and communities have confidence in the awarding of Australia’s competitive research grants.
Researchers applying to competitive grant agencies, here and around the world, need to know that they can rely on the strength and quality of their ideas. Without this confidence, Australian research loses credibility and therefore competitiveness.
We lose the ability to develop, attract and retain the top minds we need to advance our economy and society, and compete with the rest of the world.
Partnership to support our research system
Australia’s university leaders stand ready to work with Government to ensure the integrity and purpose of the ARC so that Australians can have full confidence in the decisions being made to advance Australia through research.
1. Deloitte Access Economics 2020, The importance of universities to Australia’s prosperity, A report to Universities Australia, Canberra.