History of ARC


The ARC is a Commonwealth entity within the Australian Government. The ARC’s purpose is to grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community through funding the highest quality research, assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research and providing advice on research matters. In seeking to achieve its purpose, the ARC provides advice to the Government on research matters and administers the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP), a significant component of Australia's investment in research and development.

That much is well-known. It may be a surprise to learn that the ARC has a long history. Even longer is the history of some of the funding schemes that the ARC now administers.

The ARC is directly descended from the Australian Research Grants Committee (ARGC) and has functions related to the earlier Commonwealth Universities Research Grants Committee. The ARC also acquired responsibilities from the previous Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission (CTEC).

Over the years the ARC has evolved in function, structure and reporting arrangements. Its leaders and staff have changed, funding levels have fluctuated, some existing schemes have been reinvigorated and new schemes have been created. Throughout this time the ARC’s role of supporting excellent research by a system of rigorous peer review has not wavered.


1946  The Commonwealth Universities Research Grants Committee was established in 1946. It was initially constituted as an Interdepartmental Committee chaired by the Director of the Commonwealth Office of Education. The Committee had responsibility for advising on the allocation of Commonwealth research funds.
1965 The Commonwealth Government established the ARGC in 1965 to advise the Minister on the merit of applications for research funding from individuals and teams and suggest the allocation of funds. The Committee made recommendations from an available budget on Commonwealth funding support of particular research proposals which had been developed and submitted by university researchers around the country. This was called the Australian Research Grants scheme, later known as the Large Research Grants Scheme and predecessor of today’s Discovery Projects scheme. In the first funding round in 1966 there were 406 successful applicants who received a total of $3.99 million.

In 1974 the Commonwealth assumed full responsibility for funding higher education.  This led to the establishment of CTEC which had an advisory role and responsibility for allocating government funding among universities.

In 1982 the Special Research Centres program commenced when CTEC established 10 centres of excellence in higher education institutions. In 1985 the Key Centres of Teaching and Research program commenced with the establishment of seven centres. The current ARC Centres of Excellence scheme has its origins in these earlier programs.


Just over 20 years ago the ARC was established under the name it bears today. The Dawkins’s reforms were set out in the Government’s White Paper, Higher Education: a policy statement, July 1988. The reforms heralded the creation of the unified national system of institutions, educational profiles and the National Board of Employment, Education and Training (NBEET).

The ARC was established as one of four constituent councils of NBEET, which was an advisory body with the role of providing coordinated independent advice to the Minister. The role of the ARC was to provide both research funding and research policy advice, with a major responsibility for research carried out in the higher education sector. The ARC became responsible for various research support schemes previously administered by the ARGC and CTEC.

1996 When NBEET was abolished in 1996 most of its councils were wound down.  Legislation to effect the abolition was not passed until March 2000. The ARC continued to operate throughout this time as its functions included direct responsibility for funding advice and elements of program administration.
2001 The ARC became an independent body on 1 July 2001 under its own legislation, the Australian Research Council Act 2001, with a broader range of advisory functions and full administrative responsibility for the assessment of grant applications.


Australian University Handbook. Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee. 1997

A History of the Commonwealth Education Agency 1945–2001. Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. 2001

Higher Education: a policy statement. The Hon. J S Dawkins MP, Minister for Employment, Education and Training. July 1988

National Board of Employment. Education and Training Annual Report 1988–89

National Report on Australia’s Higher Education Sector. Department of Employment, Education, Training. 1993

Report of the Australian Research Grants Committee to the Minister-in-Charge. Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research. August 1966

Year Book Australia 1965. Australian Bureau of Statistics

Year Book Australia 1970. Australian Bureau of Statistics