The inquiry’s terms of reference excluded health and medical research but encompassed all other Commonwealth research funding bodies, including the Australian Research Council, the rural research and development corporations, and Australia’s international funding programs. There was a strong emphasis on options to improve efficiency and reduce administrative burden.
This announcement was generally welcomed by the sector.
The Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training was chaired by Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Laming and comprised MPs from both parties and the crossbench.
The consultation process received 97 submissions (see the submissions from the Academy and the EMCR Forum) and included four public hearings in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Responses centred broadly on the challenges of excess administrative burden and the quantum of research funding available.
The Committee’s report was tabled in Parliament on 27 November, making the following 15 recommendations:
A single, cross-agency research management system, linking to and pre-populating from existing records (for example, ORCID IDs), with uniform guidelines and documentation, and with a two-stage application process (expression of interest followed by full application)
A ‘risk-based approach’ to post-award variations, allowing universities to make minor changes without seeking approval
Introduction of smaller grant funding programs to support pilot and proof-of-concept studies
Strengthening the existing peer-review system by providing better training to reviewers, and more detailed feedback to unsuccessful applicants
A review of research block grants with a view to better supporting indirect costs of research
Allowing non-university research organisations (TAFE, public research agencies and independent medical research institutes) to access competitive grant programs
Re-weighting assessment criteria and grant programs to better support early- and mid-career researchers
Annual reporting on participation of under-represented groups in grant programs
Better mechanisms to support interdisciplinary research
Consider a public portal to facilitate academia–industry partnerships
A future inquiry to examine international strategies, incentives and models to promote academia–industry collaboration
Development of a strategic approach to Australia’s open scholarship environment
Changing the reporting frequency for the ERA and Engagement and Impact Assessment (EIA) programs from three to five years, and reviewing the programs to reduce cost and administrative burden on universities
A strategic review of Australia’s R&D investment to identify key research priorities, better national and international coordination and adequate investment, including consideration of a ‘future or translation fund for non-medical research’
Consideration of Australian investment in international research funds such as Horizon Europe.
These are broad recommendations, and despite a number of issues being suggested for further review, if adopted they would have significant impacts on Australia’s research sector.