Peak body Science & Technology Australia today emphasised the importance of maintaining independence in the federal research granting process, following revelations that former Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham interfered with the last Australian Research Council (ARC) grants round.
“To have projects rejected by a minister, based on their personal opinion, represents an inexcusable intrusion on a process that is specifically designed to ensure academic excellence, independence and rigour.” STA President Professor Emma Johnston AO said today.
“Our highly competitive research funding system is considered world’s best practice and ensures that funding decisions are based on independent and rigorous assessment by experts in their fields. Through his actions, the Minister has opened the doors for political influence to affect funding outcomes. When the very best research is no longer the research that gets funded it threatens our ability to compete on the global stage as an innovation nation.”
Earlier this week Senate Estimates heard that 11 projects were rejected by the minister, totalling $4.2 million in research investment.
“There can be no doubt that the work undertaken under the Australian Research Council grants program produces important results both at home and internationally,” Professor Johnston said.
“The research projects supported in each funding round are assessed and peer reviewed by experts in the field, with recommendations made to the minister for final allocations. For the past 13 years the minister of the time has accepted the recommendations of the experts.
“The process is transparent and designed to ensure that the best and most innovative projects are funded.”
As a peak body that represents 70,000 scientists, many of whom are researchers, Science & Technology Australia is fundamentally opposed to political interference in the research funding process.
“Freedom to pursue and to share knowledge is a fundamental right protected by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation. Australian researchers deserve to know that their work is assessed on merit, rather than by the politics of the day.”
“Given the impending announcement of ARC Discovery grant awards for 2019, STA seeks assurance from the current Education Minister that the peer-review selection process and recommendations have been respected.”
For media enquiries, please contact (02) 6257 2891.