Universities Australia is the peak body for Australia’s 39 comprehensive universities. Our members are spread across Australia, in regional and metropolitan areas. They educate more than a 1.5 million students each year and undertake research that adds to Australia’s stock of knowledge, and to Australia’s economic and social wellbeing.
To remain at the forefront of global research advances, Australia needs a competitive research grants system with strong governance, robust peer review and genuine transparency at its core. The ARC is fundamental to this system.
On 9 March 2022 the UA Plenary released a statement calling on Government and industry to support nine principles to underpin the ARC as Australia’s premier independent agency for funding for non-medical research.
UA urges Government to carefully consider the recommendations outlined below. UA looks forward to working with the Government to ensure that the ARC is one of the world’s leading research funding agencies.
Scope and purpose of the ARC
1. That the Government amend the ARC Act to clarify the scope of the research that may be funded by the ARC. The scope should be restricted to non-medical research undertaken by universities; and have regard to the optimal distribution between basic and applied (including translational) research.
2. The Government considers a form of the Haldane Principle to be included in the ARC Act as a guiding principle towards allocating investment in research.
3. The Government remove the provision for Ministerial veto of individual project grants.Should the Government decide to retain the Ministerial veto power, UA recommends that the ARC Act be amended so that in the case of the exercise of the Ministerial veto power, the Government is to set out its reasons in Parliament for the veto of the grant(s).
4. That the Government discontinue the ERA initiative and consider, in consultation with the sector and other experts, other options to provide assurance of the high-quality research performed by Australian universities.
Governance of the ARC
5. That the ARC Act be amended to introduce an ARC Board, including an independent Chair, as outlined in the consultation paper.
6. That the ARC Act be amended to:
a. Strengthen the role of the CEO by bringing it in line with the NHMRC in relation to the protections relating to appointment, performance and termination of the CEO.
b. Consider, as a high priority, a strong research track record as well as proven management experience as a criteria for the position of CEO.
Other key issues
Structure and staffing of the ARC
7. That the Government:
a. Undertake a review of the balance of policy, program, administrative and research expertise within the ARC management and leadership to strengthen the level of research expertise.
b. Examine the appropriate organisational structure and funding levels to support the rebalanced workforce.
The National Interest Test
8. That the ARC replace the National Interest Test (NIT) with the current peer review process that covers the national benefit.
National security processes in grant assessment
9. That the Government review the approach to managing national security risk in research grants throughout the grant application and assessment process.
This review should consider using the current University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) mechanisms and the expertise of the national security agencies. It should not rely on the ARC to make judgment calls on issues that are, reasonably, outside of its scope of expertise.
Grant success rates
10. That the ARC in its review of grant process improvements develop an application process that significantly reduces the amount of time spent by researchers on unsuccessful grant applications, especially given the low success rates.
Full cost of research
11. That the Government work with the sector to develop an appropriate model for funding the full cost of research.