$380m ARC funding announced; new National Interest Test will be in plain English

Thursday, 29 November, 2018

$380m ARC funding announced; new National Interest Test will be in plain English

Minister for Education Dan Tehan has announced more than $380 million in funding for university research projects through the Australian Research Council (ARC).

The research grant schemes covered under this latest round of successful grants include:

  • Discovery Projects (DP) funding of $262.2 million for 653 projects.
  • Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) funding of $76.9 million for 200 projects.
  • Discovery Indigenous (IN) funding of $6.7 million for 12 projects.
  • Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) funding of $27.4 million for 36 projects.
  • Linkage Projects (LP) funding of $7.6 million for 19 projects.

Some of the projects include:

  • $375,000 for the Australian National University to shed light on the evolution of galaxies by discovering the largest black holes in the early universe and weighing them using infrared spectroscopy.
  • $389,326 for the University of Wollongong to transform simple cameras into smart sensors to help vision-impaired people navigate freely in crowded areas. The technologies developed in this project could be adapted for use in other areas such as road safety, self-driving vehicles and autonomous robots.
  • $325,000 for Curtin University to improve Australia’s capability to accurately forecast geophysical hazards, such as earthquakes and landslides, using satellite radar imagery.
  • $357,000 for The University of Queensland to reduce traffic congestion by developing a low-cost, data-driven traffic simulation model to better inform decisions by urban planners and traffic operators.
  • $583,199 for the University of Canberra to improve the academic achievement and experience of Indigenous students through a longitudinal study into educational success factors.

Tehan also announced how the National Interest Test (NIT) would apply to future ARC grant applications.

"Under the new National Interest Test, only those applications that meet the NIT definition and score highly in the competitive grants process will be recommended to the Minister for funding.

"Applicants will be asked to explain 'the extent to which the research contributes to Australia's national interest through its potential to have economic, commercial, environmental, social or cultural benefits to the Australian community'."

The previous "benefit and impact" application text will be replaced with a compulsory field for the applicant to make their case against the NIT. This statement will be 100 to 150 words and in plain English. The NIT will apply to all future rounds.

This approach creates no additional burden to researchers in preparing their applications but requires them to specifically address the NIT definition.

ARC assessors will assess applications and provide recommendations to the ARC CEO. The ARC CEO will assess the NIT of each application and provide advice to the Minister. The Minister can also use the NIT in making their decision.

"Some of these projects would have been improved by the application of a national interest test because using plain English to explain the value of research to the country helps sharpen the focus and remind people they are working on behalf of every Australian," Tehan said.

"I am advised by the ARC that three projects that had previously been rejected are now markedly different and these have been approved in this round."

The President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Emma Johnston AO, said, “There is some inspiring research that will now go ahead thanks to this important funding provided by the ARC."

The announcement also coincided with more details around a new national interest test.

"We are relieved to see that the new national interest test is designed to minimise further burden to researchers, as it replaces the 'benefit and application' text component of the application," Professor Johnston said.

"However, we are concerned that the changes do not capture the value of basic research — the research that is driven by curiosity and fuels some of the most significant technological advances of our time.

"Moreover, we urge the Minister to support the principle of independent peer review as the world's best practice in deciding grant funding for the benefit of all Australians."

Professor Johnston was relieved to note that three projects that were knocked back in last year's ARC funding round have now been re-funded.

Image credit: ©fabioberti.it/Dollar Photo Club

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