The ARC funds research and researchers under the National Competitive Grants Programme (NCGP). The NCGP consists of two elements – Discovery and Linkage. Within these elements are a range of schemes structured to provide a pathway of incentives for researchers to build the scope and scale of their work and collaborative partnerships. The majority of funding decisions under the NCGP are made on the basis of peer review.
The ARC’s peer review processes involve:
- peer review by experts who assess individual research proposals within their field of research or across a broader disciplinary area on the basis of established selection criteria
- processes under which arrangements for assessment are clearly articulated in published documentation
- robust conflicts of interest processes to ensure conflicts are managed and transparent
- the receipt of proposals in confidence, except where required to be released under law, for example under the Freedom of Information Act 1982
- the provision of a right of reply to assessments (in most ARC schemes).
Peer Review Roles
Depending on the scheme, peer review of proposals may be undertaken by: members of the ARC College of Experts (CoE), Selection Advisory Committee (SAC) and external assessors, other eminent researchers and/or experienced industry representatives. A description of assessor roles is provided in the table below.
The ARC CoE members are generally divided among five panels: Biological Sciences and Biotechnology (BSB), Engineering, Mathematics and Informatics (EMI), Humanities and Creative Arts (HCA), Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences (PCE), and Social Behavioural and Economic Sciences (SBE).
Depending on the size of the scheme either all five panels of the College of Experts or a smaller number convene for selection meetings. In other schemes, such as Australian Laureate Fellowships and Centres of Excellence schemes, a single interdisciplinary Selection Advisory Committee (SAC) is used. SAC members may be ARC College of Expert members, experienced industry representatives and/or other eminent researchers.
Peer Review Process
Release of guidance material
Every funding round begins with the development of funding rules – the blueprint describing the eligibility criteria and accountability requirements for funding proposals. The funding rules are fundamental to the smooth administration of the funding scheme. In developing the funding rules, the ARC considers feedback from the research sector and Post Award matters.. This includes responses to the ARC’s annual consultation on funding rules and feedback from Deputy and Pro-Vice Chancellors (Research). The draft funding rules are considered by the ARC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) before final approval is sought from the Minister.
Submission of proposals
Most ARC proposals require an application form to be completed using the ARC online application system RMS. The proposal application form and the ‘Instructions to Applicants’ documents assist researchers in electronically submitting their proposals for funding.
To be considered for funding, proposals must meet eligibility requirements specified within ARC scheme funding rules. Proposals may only be submitted by eligible organisations listed in the scheme funding rules. Proposals must also be completed according to format and submission requirements specified in scheme ‘Instructions to Applicants’ documents.
Some ARC scheme funding rules describe a number of situations where it is possible for applicants to submit an eligibility exemption request for the purposes of obtaining an exemption from the ARC regarding a prospective proposal. The closing time for submission of such requests for the relevant scheme is set out on the Important Dates web page.
Requests Not to Assess
Applicants may provide written notification to the ARC naming any person or persons whom they do not wish to assess their proposal. Up to three assessors can be nominated. Requests nominating more than three assessors to be excluded for a Proposal must include a justification for each additional request in excess of the three standard requests. The justification for each additional request must be directly supported in writing by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) or equivalent of the Administering Organisation. Appropriate justification and substantive evidence must be provided. Additional requests based on unsubstantiated rumours, apparent speculation and other arguments devoid of hard evidence will not be accepted.
Receipt and assignment of proposals
Once received by the ARC proposals undergo a process to determine whether a proposal meets the requirements in the relevant scheme funding rules. If a proposal is deemed to be potentially ineligible, the proposal is sent for consideration by the ARC eligibility committee. The relevant administering organisation is advised when a proposal is identified as potentially ineligible. The administering organisation may provide further information if required. All proposals, regardless of their eligibility status, undergo the same peer review process.
For schemes with multiple selection panels, as soon as the closing time for proposals has passed, proposals are matched to a selection panel using the Fields of Research (FOR) codes applicants have selected within the proposal. ARC Executive Directors review the appropriateness of the proposals in each panel and may transfer proposals to different panels if required. They also identify interdisciplinary proposals that will require assessors from more than one selection panel. Once these processes are finalised, the responsible Executive Director assigns at least two CoE members to each proposal. For schemes with a single interdisciplinary panel, the responsible Executive Director assigns at least two SAC members to each proposal.
Each scheme varies in its use of assessors depending on the objectives of the scheme, the scale of funding support requested and the timing of the overall process. In most schemes, Executive Directors assign proposals to an appropriate number of Assessors. In Discovery Projects and Linkage Projects, CoE members also assign up to four Assessors per proposal.
The ARC receives Proposals from a range of scholarly fields. Many have a multi-disciplinary or cross-disciplinary character, with assessment generally sought from experts in different fields. As far as possible, the ARC aims to assign assessors to proposals whose areas of expertise best matches the research described in the proposal. However there are sometimes cases where the ARC has misunderstood an assessor’s area of expertise. The ARC advises all assessors that they may decline to assess a proposal if they consider a proposal to involve research that is outside their area of expertise.
Conflict of Interest
The ARC Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy is designed to ensure that all conflicts of interest are managed in a rigorous and transparent way. It aims to prevent individuals from influencing decisions unfairly and maintain public confidence in the integrity, legitimacy, impartiality and fairness of the peer review process.
Any individual reviewing material for the ARC must agree to a confidentiality and conflict of interest statement, and must clearly disclose any conflicts of interest which may impact their ability to perform their role.
For further information relevant to conflicts of interest for assessors, please visit the Identifying and Handling a Conflict of Interest in NCGP processes page.
CoE members and Detailed Assessors submit online assessments to the ARC through RMS. They are each asked to assess the merits of a proposal against selection criteria set out in scheme funding rules. The structure of the assessment form varies from scheme to scheme, but typically assessment forms request scores and written comments for each selection criteria.
The selection criteria for proposals are set out in the scheme funding rules. Selection criteria and weightings vary from scheme to scheme to fit the nature and objectives of each scheme. However, most scheme selection criteria include investigator and proposed programme of research components.
When assessing the researchers nominated in a proposal, assessors are advised that it is important to take into account the opportunities that the researchers have had to build their research profile. For example, researchers who are relatively early in their career, or who have had an interrupted career, should have these facts taken into account. Similarly, researchers whose current or previous conditions of employment have allowed them a relatively large amount of research time should have this taken into account. (Reference to ROPE)
Guidance is provided to assessors on the degree of merit associated with particular scoring bands. A total weighted score, which takes into account the set criteria weightings, is automatically calculated when the assessor saves their assessment.
Recognising the subjective character of scores, the ARC provides the following advice to assessors on the degree of merit associated with specified scoring bands as a guide.
- Scoring band A: Outstanding – Of the highest quality and at the forefront of research in the field. Approximately 10%* of Proposals should receive ratings in this band.
- Scoring band B: Excellent – High quality research and a strongly competitive Proposal. Approximately 15%* of Proposals should receive ratings in this band.
- Scoring band C: Very good – An interesting, sound and compelling Proposal. Approximately 20%* of Proposals should receive rating in this band.
- Scoring band D: Good – A sound research Proposal, but lacks a compelling element. Approximately 35%* of Proposals are likely to fall into this band.
- Scoring band E: Uncompetitive: The Proposal is uncompetitive and has significant weaknesses or more fatal flaws. Approximately 20%* of Proposals are likely to fall into this band.
*Percentages are provided as a guide only. These will change depending on the individual schemes requirements.
In most ARC schemes, once the initial assessments by Detailed Assessors are completed and submitted to the ARC, researchers are invited to respond to the written comments from the assessors via a rejoinder process. Scores and assessor details are not released to applicants. Rejoinders allow applicants and nominated participants to clarify any misunderstanding or difference of opinion about perceived weaknesses in the proposal. It also provides an important feedback mechanism that may help researchers in future proposals. The assessors' reports and the rejoinders then assist the ARC CoE members in reviewing proposals.
Following the rejoinder process, CoE and SAC members attend selection meetings to rank the proposals and determine to what extent the competitive proposals ought to be funded. A recommendation for funding is made to the ARC CEO.
There are two main CoE meetings each year:
In April a small meeting is held to consider proposals submitted to the Linkage Projects scheme
In August a larger meeting is held to consider proposals submitted in the annual round of Discovery Projects, Discovery Indigenous, Discovery Early Career Researcher Award and Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities.
SAC meetings for other ARC schemes are also held periodically throughout the year, depending on the timelines of particular schemes. They may include some members of the CoE.
Ranking of proposals
Each criterion is assessed separately using the A-E scoring bands. As each criterion has a different weighting, depending on the individual scheme, an ‘Assessment Total Score’ which takes into account the criterion weightings will then be automatically calculated when an assessor enters in all the scores and saves the assessment. This then provides a single value for each proposal, ranging from A to E, allowing proposals to be sorted into an initial ranked list for each selection panel.
To determine a final ranked list, the selection panel considers and discusses proposals – particularly those around the funding margin. Selection panel members may revise the ranking of a proposal in response to a number of factors including: assessor reports; persuasive rejoinder arguments; and panel discussions comparing the relative merits of proposals against the selection criteria. Selection panel members also take into account any ranking anomalies.
Assignment of budgets
Once a CoE selection panel has determined the final ranked list of proposals, members determine funding recommendations for all proposals in the fundable range. Selection panel members consider in detail each proposal budget request and recommend an appropriate level of funding. Selection panel members may recommend less than requested funding in cases where the proposal budget is considered to be inflated, is inadequately justified or includes items that are prohibited. Each scheme’s funding rules set out what type of funding may be requested and any budget item restrictions.
ARC CEO’s recommendation
On advice from the CoE or SAC, the ARC CEO makes funding recommendations to the Minister. Approval of proposal expenditure rests with the Minister.
Once the Minister has approved and announced the funding recommendations, the ARC may notify organisations of the individual outcomes of their proposals. On its website, the ARC publishes a selection report, providing an analysis of funding outcomes for the scheme round, and listings of successful proposals. Emails and hard copy packages are sent to the relevant research offices to provide a summary of each organisation’s individual proposal outcomes. Hard copy packages also contain individual notification letters for distribution to the first-named researcher of each proposal. Researchers are notified whether their proposal was successful, unsuccessful or deemed to be ineligible.
Feedback to applicants
For ineligible proposals, researchers are advised of the reason(s) a proposal was deemed to be ineligible. In the case of unsuccessful proposals, feedback outlining the reason(s) a proposal was considered uncompetitive may be included. The type of feedback provided varies from scheme to scheme.
Successful administering organisations are sent a Funding Agreement, outlining the terms and conditions by which any successful proposals must be administered. Funding for successful proposals (now projects) commences as soon as two copies of the Funding Agreement have been signed by the appropriate delegate of the administering organisation and counter-signed by the ARC.
The funding rules for the various ARC funding schemes make provision for an appeals process. Appeals will be considered only against process issues and not against committee decisions or assessor ratings and comments. Appeals must be made on the appeals form available from the ARC's website. The form must be lodged through the relevant administering organisation's research office and be received, within 28 days of the date on the letter notifying the outcomes of proposals.
The ARC appoints an Appeals Committee to hear appeals and make recommendations to the ARC's CEO. In general the functions of the Appeals Committee are to:
- consider valid appeals submitted to the ARC to determine whether there has been any error in the administrative process relating to the selection process;
- determine whether any such errors led to a defect in decision-making by the ARC and/or the Minister which adversely affected the proposal;
- recommend to the ARC whether to uphold or dismiss an appeal;
- provide advice to the ARC in relation to how its administrative processes could be modified or improved.
Following receipt of the appellants' submissions, the ARC prepares material for the Appeals Committee's consideration. This includes collating the appellant's submission and background information relating to the appeal (generally the ARC's submission outlines relevant provisions of the funding rules and the processes which are applied during the selection process). The Appeals Committee usually meets two times per year to consider appeals arising from recent funding rounds.
Content Last Modified: 09/10/15