News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Changes to Australian Research Council and new funding direction raise significant concerns

Health Industry Hub | January 11, 2022 |
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Pharma News: The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Acting Minister for Education and Youth has announced changes to the Australian Research Council (ARC) which has raised several concerns.

Minister Robert said the new direction was designed to ensure the ARC could better harness the benefits of publicly funded research to help the nation, particularly as it recovers from the pandemic. 

“The ARC will align its Linkage programs with the Government’s research commercialisation agenda. For future rounds, the ARC will recommend 70 per cent of its applied research grants fall under the six National Manufacturing Priorities,” Mr Robert said. 

“The ARC will also strengthen the National Interest Test by enhancing industry and other end-users’ involvement and improve transparency in the grants process.”

Professor Jane Hall, President and Professor Richard Holden, President-Elect of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, said “The changes to ARC funding are of significant concern to the Academy and to the social science disciplines more generally. In particular, the proposal to expand the ARC College of Experts to include people without research expertise risks diluting the peer-review processes that ensure only the best and most worthwhile research receives public funding. The proposed alignment of funding schemes with a narrow set of commercial and manufacturing priorities will also damage Australia’s research ecosystem and our international standing.

“As the rest of the world and much of Australian industry is shifting towards knowledge-based products and services, this attempt to prioritise manufacturing outcomes within the only national agency that funds research across all disciplines seems bizarre.

“Coming as this does on top of the significant recent changes to university funding, we see this new proposal as another step along a path that could lead to a long-term reduction in Australia’s expertise and capacity to respond to critical social, environmental and economic challenges.”

Kylie Walker, CEO of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, added “The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) recognises the Government’s initiative to bring strategic alignment across its research and development funding initiatives. This new framing for existing funding is aligned with the Government’s previous announcements, however we are concerned that 70% of research grants will go to manufacturing priorities, which potentially limits investment in areas such as clean energy, quantum, and agriculture.

“We are pleased to see the Government remain committed to developing new knowledge through investigator led research funding opportunities – the so-called blue-sky research. However, the request that researchers articulate the practical outcomes of their work in line with Australia’s national interest must not be used to discourage genuinely novel research.

“It’s also critical that the involvement of industry experts in research assessment does not inhibit curiosity-led research in Australia. If non-subject-matter experts will sit on the assessment panels, ATSE stands ready to assist in putting forward assessors and advisory committee members who are R&D-experienced industry leaders.

“We welcome the request to establish an ARC advisory committee, similar to that of the National Health and Medical Research Council. However, we believe it’s important that the independence of the ARC CEO, and their ability to communicate directly with the Minister, should be maintained. We also believe that to be truly effective, consideration must be given to the nomination of committee members, and caution against rushing this through before Professor Thomas leaves the post.”

ARC Chief Executive Officer, Professor Sue Thomas, has advised the Government that she will not seek an extension to her contract and will step down from the role on 31 January 2022. 

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