EMCR Forum’s response to review of ARC Act

EMCR Forum: The voice of Australia's future scientific leaders

By Tim Lau1, Mohammad Taha2, Li Gao3 and Raffaella Demichelis4

1He/Him, Kaurna Country, @TimothyCWLau, LinkedIn

2They/Them, Naarm, Wurundjeri Land, @TahaSciencing, LinkedIn

3He/Him, Bunurong Land, LinkedIn

4She/Her, Whadjuk region of the Noongar Nation, @raffademichelis, LinkedIn

The Australian Government released the outcome of the Review of the Australian Research Council Act 2001 on 20 April 2023 (full report). This review was conducted in conjunction with a call for public submissions, with 223 submissions received, including one by the Australian Academy of Science’s Early- and Mid-Career Researcher (EMCR) Forum (available here).

The report provides several recommendations for consideration by the ARC. We are pleased to see that some of the recommendations suggested by the panel are in line with the EMCR Forum’s suggestions.

In particular, the review panel:

  • stresses the need for the ARC to be a custodian of fundamental research, while re-affirming the sustained need for funding of curiosity-driven research
  • acknowledges the increasing challenges of EMCRs in Fellowship schemes, and that the over-emphasis on individual investigator metrics are disproportionately punishing for EMCRs
  • re-enforces the importance of a fair assessment of ROPE, proposing changes to better suit a diverse community and decrease its administrative burden
  • proposes various forms of support to underrepresented groups, with a special focus on advancing Indigenous Australians, providing detailed analyses and directions
  • recommends an ARC Board (not Minister) to appoint CEO and approve grants, with Minister-veto only to be invoked in cases where national security is threatened (we also support the panel’s recommendation that Minister vetoes be transparent and require Parliamentary oversight)
  • stresses the need for regular meaningful consultation with the academic and research community
  • recommends simplifying and streamlining applications through the introduction of a two-stage grant submission process, thereby significantly reducing administrative burden
  • recommends the discontinuation of the ERA and EI metrics, and importantly, stresses that these metrics should not be substituted with other similar metrics “because of the evidence that such metrics can be biased or inherently flawed in the absence of expert review and interpretation”.

While the above recommendations are a positive step forward for the future of Australian research funding, there are other opportunities for positive change that have been overlooked:

  • while the report re-iterates the ARC’s role in safeguarding research integrity, it does not address, nor acknowledge, the rampant gamification and misuse of citation ‘metrics’ that is widespread in certain sectors of academia, and how this misuse directly impacts the distribution of grants. In our view, the report could have recommended a review on the metrics used to rate and judge the quality of investigators, particularly given that the latter is usually heavily weighted in grant assessments
  • references to research excellence omit mentions of diversity and inclusion considerations as part of the review process. As a funding body, we believe that the ARC should set up the benchmark for minimum diversity in grant outcomes and awards. Intersectional diversity and inclusion of women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, people with disabilities, and overlapping minority groups are a requirement for the future of research excellence in Australia
  • the report under-values diversity in the governance structures of the ARC by failing to recommend that the ARC consider building committees which includes a diverse cohort from a broad range of backgrounds, ages, and career stages.

The EMCR Forum is looking forward to the ARC delivering and implementing these positive recommendations in future schemes. We would also be looking forward to working with the ARC to further improve its processes with an intersectional approach and in consultation with the broad research community.


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