Submission—Review of Federation Fellowships

On 12 January 2007, the Australian Academy of Science made the following submission on to the Review Committee of the Australian Research Council regarding the review of Federation Fellowships.


1. Effectiveness of the Federation Fellowships scheme

The Australian Academy of Science has sought comment on the Federation Fellowships scheme from Fellows of the Academy of Science, from Federation Fellows and from Chairs of the Academy’s National Committees. Despite a diversity of views about the effectiveness of the Federation Fellowships scheme, there were some strong themes emerging that have informed this Submission. Three recommendations are put forward to the Review Committee of the Federation Fellowships:

  1. The number of Federation Fellowships awarded each year be reduced to 5 to 10 in number. The remaining funds should be diverted into the Australian Research Fellowship and the Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship awards.
  2. The Federation Fellowship scheme should be administered as a truly national scheme, possibly by the National Academies Forum or Office of the Chief Scientist rather than the Australian Research Council.
  3. A significant component in the Federation Fellowship salary should be non-superannuable.

2. Symbolically important initiative

The Federation Fellowships scheme was a major initiative arising from the Government’s January 2001 launch of ‘Backing Australia’s Ability: an innovation action plan for the future’ (BAA). BAA drew critically on two very substantiative reviews to which the Academy of Science contributed: ‘The Chance to Change’ by the Chief Scientist in November 2000 and the Miles’ Report on the Innovation Summit.

The Academy welcomed the initiatives of BAA. The then President of the Academy, Professor Brian Anderson said:

These actions touch our businesses, our schools, our communities. They target excellence and they target national priorities, areas where we can do better or ought to have been doing better. The policy changes should pay immense dividends in the future…they are hugely important symbolically too, declaring to all Australians what is crucial for our future.

The Australian Academy of Science considers the Federation Fellowship scheme was most timely and appropriate when introduced, as it helped stem an exodus of talented Australian researchers who were being recruited by the United Kingdom universities under the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and by North American institutions. It gave a strong signal to researchers, many of whom have worked long years and long hours with little reward, that their contributions were valued by the nation.

3. Potential for incoherent policy

While the Academy applauded the initiative to recruit and to retain outstanding researchers from abroad and to fund their research at a level that allowed them to fulfil their potential, the Academy did express caution. In his President’s address in May 2002, Professor Anderson warned:

If we are to have outstanding universities, or even maintain outstanding groups across the university sector, it will be crucial to be able to hire outstanding people from abroad. Australia is too small to be able to confine the search for talent to its citizens. But then we have a problem. We have universities which are funded with the underlying implicit assumption that it is satisfactory to pay professors a salary of $100, 000 or thereabouts. The Government making this assumption has also said, in establishing the Federation Fellowships, that to hire the best people from abroad, you need to pay them $225,000 per annum. There is a policy of incoherence here which needs to be addressed if we are to retain outstanding groups, let alone have two universities in the world’s top fifty.

4. Issues in delivery

There are a number of issues arising with the Federation Fellowship scheme that include:

  • An inappropriate balance in the numbers of ARC fellowships available to post-doctoral researchers and professors, compared with those available to early to mid-career researchers.
  • Inappropriate application of ARC funding rules to what should be a national fellowship scheme, so that there is an inappropriate balance in the numbers of Fellowships available to universities, compared with those taken up at other publicly-funded research agencies and medical research institutes.
  • A looming problem relating to superannuation where Federation Fellows on defined-benefit entitlements may retire rather than revert to lower salaries and will draw on the superannuation contributions of non-Federation Fellows.

The Academy considers that too many Federation Fellowships have been on offer, at 25 per year. This has had the unintended consequence of creating a two-tier system in universities, has caused difficulties for host institutions in providing matching funds for so many Federation Fellows and a wide-spread questioning of the credentials of some of the recipients.

Recommendations

The Australian Academy of Science therefore recommends that:

  1. The number of Federation Fellowships awarded each year be reduced to 5 to 10 in number. The remaining funds should be diverted into the Australian Research Fellowship and the Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship awards.
  2. The Federation Fellowship scheme should be administered as a truly national scheme, possibly by the National Academies Forum or Office of the Chief Scientist rather than the Australian Research Council.
  3. A significant component in the Federation Fellowship salary should be non-superannuable.

Contact

Professor Philip Kuchel Secretary, Science Policy
Australian Academy of Science
GPO Box 783
Canberra ACT 2601
Tel: (02) 6201 9401
Fax: (02) 6201 9494
Email: es@science.org.au

© 2018 Australian Academy of Science

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