Reports of departing researchers, increased job insecurity, and a lack of time for planning are threatening the national interest according to Australia’s peak body for science and technology.
ARC Discovery Projects and Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards are usually awarded in late October or early November, and the delays this year mean researchers are still awaiting a decision.
Now, universities and research institutes are considering their options, as contracts are renegotiated and funding from previous projects begins to run out.
President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Emma Johnston AO, said the ARC had submitted their recommendations some time ago, and were awaiting Ministerial approvals which had been delayed by the introduction of a new ‘national interest test’.
“Australia’s research funding system is world leading, fundamentally relying on experts to assess applications each year for quality and potential, national interest, and depth of approach,” Professor Johnston explained.
“Only around 15% of applications are funded, as it is an extremely competitive, complex and comprehensive process.”
She said Australian researchers were amongst the most productive, efficient and highest impact of any researchers in the world.
“The Minister has thrown a spanner in the works. Researchers submitted their detailed grant applications in February and they responded to expert peer-review feedback in June. So more than 9 months after their application went in – they are still waiting to hear the outcome for research projects that are meant to begin in January.”
“Science & Technology Australia is hearing stories from across the country that for some researchers, this insecurity and uncertainty is proving to be the last straw.”
She said the delays meant researchers would be unable to prepare for their projects and would likely need to begin work on writing new grant applications for 2019 – a waste of time if they are successful this year.
“Researchers are in limbo and are unable to work towards the prosperity of the nation, unable to do what they do best – research,” she said.
“We train hard, and then we work hard in the national interest every day; we can only look on in confusion as the political process obstructs our progress.”
“This delay, and the stalling of important Australian research, is a threat to our national interest.”
The proposed change announced by the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, follows the revelation in Senate Estimates that the former Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham, rejected recommendations for funding of 11 projects through the ARC.
“Australia’s researchers push the boundaries of knowledge every day in the quest to solve some of the toughest issues facing our world,” Professor Johnston said.
“We are calling on the government to expedite the process so that out solution makers can get on with their important work.”
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