Report of the Review of National Committees for Science—Executive summary

The Executive Committee of the Council of the Australian Academy of Science established in mid 2012 a Committee to Review the National Committees of the Academy. The National Committees are established as a mechanism for linking the Academy with science and scientists in Australia, and for ensuring that Australian science has a global influence.

After an extensive survey of the National Committees, Fellows of the Academy and Australian scientific societies the Review Committee found that, while many National Committees were working well, many Fellows and scientific societies, particularly in life sciences and applied sciences, felt that they had no links to the National Committee system. In many cases where links did exist in principle, they were not effectively utilised.

In response to these findings, the Review Committee believes that ways must be found to bring more of Australian science under the National Committee system, and that the Academy and the National Committees themselves must use the system to communicate more effectively with Australian scientists. Accordingly the Review Committee has made the following recommendations, which are justified in detail in the text.

Recommendation 1

The Review Committee recommends that the following National Committees be established or continued as appropriate.

  1. Mathematical Sciences
  2. Astronomy
  3. Chemistry
  4. Physics
  5. Space and Radio Science
  6. Materials Science
  7. Mechanical and Engineering Sciences
  8. Earth Sciences
  9. Earth System Science
  10. Geography
  11. Biomedical Sciences
  12. Medicine and Public Health
  13. Nutrition
  14. Cellular and Developmental Biology
  15. Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
  16. Ecology, Evolution and Conservation
  17. Data in Science
  18. History and Philosophy of Science
  19. Information and Communication Sciences
  20. Brain and Mind
  21. Antarctic Research
  22. Crystallography.

Recommendation 2

The Review Committee recommends that priority be given to memberships of international scientific organisations in the following order

  1. The subscription to ICSU at the new level
  2. Subscriptions which are wholly or partially supported by Australian Government Departments or Organisations
  3. Subscriptions which are supported to at least 50% by Australian scientific societies
  4. Subscriptions to international organisations in which Australians hold, have recently held, or are likely to hold positions in the structure, in part because of the desirability of supporting this role, in part because this may give Australia influence in possible development of the organisation, and in part because this is a useful proxy for effective interactions with Australian science
  5. Subscriptions to other international organisations.

Recommendation 3

The Review Committee recommends that the Academy encourage and facilitate the involvement of the National Committees and Australian scientists in international scientific organisations, in part by providing a fixed sum in partial support of representation of Australia at general assemblies (or equivalent governance meetings) of the international scientific organisations linked to the National Committees.

Where an international scientific organisation is linked to more than one National Committee only one financial contribution will be made to support attendance at governance meetings of that international scientific organisation, in consultation with the National Committees linked to it.

Recommendation 4

The Review Committee recommends the following as a general statement of the purpose of the National Committees.

  1. To connect the Academy to science and scientists in Australia
  2. To link the Academy to Australian scientific societies in order to work together to promote the development of the discipline
  3. To link Australian science in the disciplines to world science, in particular through the membership of appropriate international organisations
  4. To ensure that Australia has a voice and a role in the global development of the disciplines
  5. To provide strategic science policy advice, to the Academy, as input to Academy science policy statements, and (with the approval of the Executive Committee of Council) to the Australian Government and Australian organisations.

Recommendation 5

To ensure clarity about the tasks of each National Committee, the Review Committee recommends that each existing and newly appointed Chair, in consultation with the Committee, and with the Executive Committee of Council, should set out formal terms of reference for the period in which they occupy the Chair. These terms of reference should be published on the website of the National Committee.

Recommendation 6

The Review Committee recommends that

  1. Normally a National Committee will have at most eight members, but the size of each National Committee be determined by the Chair of the Committee in consultation with the Secretaries
  2. Council determine on an annual basis a fixed sum to be provided to each of the National Committees for their national activities.

Recommendation 7

The Review Committee recommends that

  1. A plenary meeting of Chairs of National Committees be held annually, with the first meeting in 2013, and
  2. Meetings (in person or electronically) of Chairs of National Committees with common interests be held at least as frequently.

Recommendation 8

The Review Committee recommends the distribution of the newsletter of the Academy to societies as a basic first step in improving the communications of the Academy with Australian scientific societies.

Recommendation 9

The Review Committee recommends that, in all cases,

  1. Some societies relevant to National Committees have seats on the National Committee
  2. Where the number of such societies is so large that seating them all on the National Committee would not be practical, all societies have seats in a defined, cyclical way
  3. National Committees are to fill these seats by proposing candidates to the Council of the Academy in consultation with the relevant societies.

Recommendation 10

The Review Committee recommends that National Committees

  1. Distribute their agenda to the relevant societies before the meeting, with an invitation to provide input on any item, and
  2. Distribute the minutes soon after the meeting to the same societies.
  3. In both cases confidential items may be omitted from the publicly distributed meeting papers, although the existence of such items should be acknowledged.

Recommendation 11

The Review Committee recommends that relevant societies are asked

  1. To provide space for news from the National Committee in their regular electronic and paper news communications to members, and
  2. To provide a link from their website to that of the National Committee, and to accept a link from the website of the National Committee to theirs.
  3. When appropriate, to allow a short presentation about the work of the National Committee at a scientific meeting of the society.
  4. Where appropriate to allow the National Committee to use their email resources to communicate with Australian scientists.

When space or time is provided to a National Committee, it should use those opportunities on every occasion.

Recommendation 12

The Review Committee recommends that National Committees continue to be encouraged to consider the production of a decadal plan and discipline review, but that before the Academy Council approves their proceeding with this, the Council is convinced that the resources are available to produce the plan and to oversee its implementation.

Where appropriate the production of a decadal plan and discipline review should be included in the terms of reference agreed for a National Committee as in recommendation 5.

Recommendation 13

The Review Committee recommends that the Council of the Australian Academy of Science designate “the National Committee Physics in consultation with the National Committee Chemistry” as the “relevant National Committee” from which it should receive recommendations in respect to the Geoffery Frew Fellowship, under §2 of Standing Order XV.

Recommendation 14

The Review Committee recommends that

  1. When the Secretary (Science Policy) of the Academy establishes an ad hoc committee or working group to develop a policy position for the Academy a representative of the appropriate National Committees be included as a member of that Committee, and
  2. When a National Committee develops a science policy paper on its own initiative, the National Committee
    1. Advises the Secretary (Science Policy) that it is working on this paper, at an early stage of the process and invites the Secretary to send an observer to the National Committee for the discussion of the paper, and
    2. Transmits the paper to its destination in consultation with the Secretary (Science Policy).

Recommendation 15

The Review Committee recommends that the National Committees be reviewed as follows:

National Committee First review Second review
Geography 2016 2020
Data in Science 2016 2020
History and Philosophy of Science 2016 2020
Information and Communication Sciences 2016 2020
Brain and Mind 2016 2020
Crystallography 2016 2020
Biomedical Sciences 2017 2021
Cellular and Developmental Biology 2017 2021
Earth Sciences 2017 2021
Earth System Science 2017 2021
Antarctic Research 2017 2021
Nutrition 2018 2022
Agriculture Fisheries and Food 2018 2022
Ecology Evolution and Conservation 2018 2022
Materials Science 2018 2022
Mechanical and Engineering Sciences 2018 2022
Space and Radio Science 2018 2022
Astronomy 2018 2022
Mathematical Sciences 2019 2023
Chemistry 2019 2023
Physics 2019 2023
Medicine and Public Health 2019 2023

A review of the National Committee system as a whole should be undertaken in 2023, in conjunction with the reviews of the National Committees for Mathematical Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, and Medicine and Public Health.

Recommendation 16

The Review Committee recommends that a decision about the the creation of a National Committee or Working Group on Population be deferred until after the completion of the ARC funded Academy project Australia 2050: Towards and environmentally sustainable and socially equitable way of living. At that time the Council will be in a better position to define the task of the new body, if it decides to create one.

Recommendation 17

The Review Committee recommends that an ad hoc Committee to Advise the Academy on International Affairs be established, to provide advice regarding the International Council of Science (ICSU), IAP the global network of science academies, the InterAcademy Council (IAC) and the Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia (AASSA), and any other international relations of the Academy referred to it. It should also facilitate interactions between National Committees and international scientific organisations.

The Review Committee believes that the implementation of these recommendations will greatly improve the connections between the Australian Academy of Science and Australian scientists.

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