Australia enjoys a reputation for producing world class research. Australian researchers have contributed to significant discovery and development including WiFi, GPS and the cochlear implant.
The Australian Government supports research through a range of funding mechanisms. For universities, research funding is primarily administered through competitive grants and research block grants; the former comprising an application and assessment process based on merit and peer review.
The context of the inquiry was that researchers spend significant time, effort and resources applying for research funding. With low success rates, it is often implied that this time and effort is wasted.
Cognisant of reforms already underway in the Australian research sector, the Committee sought to examine ways to simplify application and assessment processes, particularly for university researchers.
This report makes 15 recommendations designed to streamline and improve research funding arrangements.
Four fundamental elements underpin the Committee’s recommendations. The first is to reduce the voluminous amount of information currently provided in support of grant funding applications. The second is to make use of existing data and information pertaining to researchers and research institutions. The third is to provide as much document uniformity as possible across the research funding schemes. And the fourth is to level the playing field for under-represented research groups. This includes early and mid-career researchers, women, minority groups, Indigenous researchers and rural and regional universities.
The key recommendation of the Committee is that a central online research management system be introduced for all Commonwealth grant programs. To maximise the efficiency of this system, it is recommended the system be linked to existing data sources to prepopulate information where available. In addition, the Committee recommends the introduction of a two-stage application process which emphasises the strength and merit of research ideas. Ancillary information unlikely to impact project ranking need only be submitted by successful applicants.
Improving research funding arrangements is as much about supporting the next generation of Australian researchers as it is making the current funding processes easier to access and navigate. Early and mid-career researchers are the future of Australia’s knowledge base. It is imperative that these researchers can be competitive in the funding environment. The Committee considers the range of strategies put forward in this report will go a long way to better support and develop the research capacity of this cohort.
As a final note, I would like to acknowledge the opportunities for Australian researchers to contribute to more global research endeavours. Whether that be through international partnerships or international mobility, there are ways in which our researchers can be better supported in the international arena. While this issue was beyond the scope of the Committee’s inquiry, it is worth highlighting the potential for greater international collaboration and contribution arising from better coordination and alignment of our research funding arrangements. This includes more strategic investment in this area.
The Committee is grateful to all the universities, research providers, government agencies and other stakeholders who contributed to this inquiry. The time spent preparing submissions and appearing at public hearings is not lost on the Committee.
Mr Andrew Laming MP