Govt agrees to all recommendations of ARC Review

Friday, 01 September, 2023

Govt agrees to all recommendations of ARC Review

The Australian Government has agreed, or agreed in principle, to all 10 recommendations of the Review of the Australian Research Council Act 2001 (ARC Review).

The independent review, led by Professors Margaret Sheil, Susan Dodds and Mark Hutchinson, was the first comprehensive review of the ARC since its inception in 2001, having been initiated by Minister for Education Jason Clare to ensure the ARC can meet the current and future needs of Australia’s research sector and to strengthen its governance arrangements. The review’s final report was released back in April, but it took until 22 August for the government to issue its response.

The government has agreed to improve the governance of the ARC and to strengthen the integrity of decision-making processes. A key recommendation is the establishment of an ARC board, which will be responsible for the appointment of the CEO and the approval of grants within the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP). The Minister for Education will take charge of the following:

  • The appointment of the board, in consultation with the Minister for Industry and Science.
  • Setting grant guidelines including key areas of national priority to be progressed through the ARC.
  • Setting expectations and key performance measures.
  • The approval of nationally significant program investments such as Centres of Excellence.

“Australia is home to brilliant researchers and some of the most cutting-edge research in the world, and the Australian Research Council plays a key role in supporting, shaping and sustaining that research,” Clare said.

“But the legislation that underpins the ARC is old and needs updating, and we need to strengthen its governance arrangements.

“These reforms will ensure the ARC is set up to meet current and future needs and maintain the trust and confidence of the research sector.”

ARC CEO Judi Zielke said the final report affirms the broader reform schedule the ARC is already undertaking to restore stakeholder trust and drive excellent research for the advancement of all Australians, with the government’s response confirming the ARC’s role in underpinning and shaping the national research landscape.

“[The response] will define in legislation our role in supporting basic and strategic basic research as well as applied research, research integrity, evaluation of the excellence, quality and impact of research in Australian universities, and the development of researchers through their career progression,” Zielke said.

“There is significant work already underway at the ARC to address the recommendations that do not require legislative change, such as those relating to grant guidelines improvements and reduction of administrative burden for researchers, universities and partners,” Zielke continued. These activities are being undertaken in close consultation with the ARC’s partners and stakeholders to ensure implementation of the changes meet the needs of the government and the sector.

“We are also consulting with Indigenous researchers regarding the establishment of an ARC Indigenous Forum.”

One week after the government provided its response, an independent report conducted by ACIL Allen revealed that ARC-funded research delivers significant and diverse benefits to Australian and international communities that will continue into the future.

‘Impact Assessment of ARC-funded Research’ examined the impact and economic return of research funded by the NCGP, finding that every $1 of research that the ARC funds generates $3.32 in economic output back into the Australian community. In addition, the report estimates that ARC-funded research from 2002–21 will increase economic output for Australia by $184.3 billion, increase the real income of Australians by $152.5 billion and create 6570 jobs per year across Australia.

“The report is based on economy-wide modelling, survey data, in-depth case studies and consultations with Australia’s university and research peak bodies and international funding agencies,” Zielke said.

“It highlights how ARC-funded research has built Australia’s research capability and improved outcomes for critical technology and communications, environmental sustainability, food supply chains, social policy and First Nations peoples.”

Science & Technology Australia (STA) CEO Misha Schubert said the report makes a compelling argument for a significant boost in research funding, with Australian R&D spending having recently fallen to just 1.68% of GDP.

“That’s well below the OECD average of 2.74% and a country mile from the 3% target Australia needs,” Schubert said.

“These figures also show the cost of under-investment in Australian research. Every dollar not spent on research is $3.32 in economic activity lost. Imagine how many jobs could be created, how much wealth generated and how many life-improving advancements could be invented through a powerful boost to the nation’s research funding.

“A bold boost to Australian research funding is an urgent imperative. It’s what will create the jobs, services and products of tomorrow, and the future ‘powered by science’ the Prime Minister has called for.”

Image credit: Pantic

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