May 13, 2024

Policy Review of the National Competitive Grants Program – IRU Response

The IRU welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Policy Review of the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and supports its overall intent.

The NCGP serves a unique purpose within Australia’s research system and is critically important for supporting excellent pure basic, strategic basic and applied research across all non-medical fields. The NCGP has a very strong international reputation for its peer review processes and NCGP funding has delivered economic, social, environmental, and cultural benefits for all Australians.

In the absence of a commitment to increase the quantum of NCGP funding, the focus of the NCGP review should be to protect its strength in funding excellence-based research, improve efficiency in peer review and administrative processes, and consider how the NCGP can support a greater equity and diversity across institutions, disciplines and researchers. The unequal disbursement of NCGP by institution, gender and seniority is well recognised, but typically justified by the excellence-based principle of the NCGP. Roughly two thirds of all NCGP funding is awarded to the Group of Eight universities, two thirds of all grants are awarded to associate or full professors, and one third of all grants are to academics with more than 20 years experience since their PhDs. NCGP funding is also skewed by discipline. Only 20% of NCGP funding supports research in Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS). The limited research support for HASS and the larger teaching loads in these fields risks the ambition for the NCGP to support research capacity, diversity and inter-disciplinary research.

1. The primary and overarching objective of the NCGP is to support excellent pure basic, strategic basic and applied research across all non-medical fields.

2. The NCGP can support additional objectives beyond research excellence through specific schemes (i.e. Research Impact; Research Collaboration; Research Translation; Research Capacity; and Research Alignment) with dedicated (additional) funding.

3. NCGP schemes could better support project teams to plan for and evaluate engagement and impact through the life of the project.

4. The ARC should take steps to improve transparency and efficiency in selection processes across the NCGP.

5. Investigate the 80:20 disbursement ratio of NCGP funding towards STEM:HASS for effects on equity, diversity and inter-disciplinary research collaboration.

6. Commit to a target of 5% of NCGP funding for Indigenous-led research.

7. The NCGP should not explicitly use alignment with national research priorities as a selection criterion.

Read full sumisson in link to PDF