Welcome message from the CEO

Professor Sue Thomas

ARC CEO Sue ThomasWelcome to our fourth and final edition of ARChway for 2018. This has certainly been a big year of new initiatives at the ARC, some very important work on our systems, and accompanying efforts by everyone at the ARC, together with our stakeholders, to manage the changes along the way. 

A snapshot achievements and changes in 2018 

While it is not possible to outline everything that has occurred this year, I will try to capture what I consider to be just a few of the highlights, as well as the challenges. 

All throughout this year, the ARC has been busily coordinating the assessment for the fourth round of Excellence in Research Australia (ERA), and the inaugural round of the Engagement and Impact assessment that is being undertaken in conjunction with ERA. Together, these assessments will highlight Australia’s research strengths and show how universities are translating their research into economic, social, environmental and other impacts. We are now steaming ahead for publication of the results in the first quarter of 2019.

Behind the scenes, the ARC has been working with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Statistics NZ and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to progress the review of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC), with a view to releasing a discussion paper also in the first quarter of 2019.

On the National Competitive Grants Program front, we have indeed had a heavy workload in 2018, administering a total of 4050 projects, made up of 1185 awards and fellowships, 687 Linkage Projects, 57 Linkage Infrastructure Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) projects, and 90 ARC Centres—including Centres of Excellence, Industrial Transformation Research Program (ITRP) Hubs and Training Centres and Special Research Initiatives (SRIs). 

Work has begun on a new Special Research Initiative—worth $56 million over 7 years and to begin in 2020—that will provide Antarctic researchers in Australian universities with the opportunity to seek funding to support their research in Antarctic science, and the ARC has developed and implemented a PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) Remediation Research Program, with the outcomes of round 1 held this year and a second round currently open for grant applications.

Efforts for the streamlining of the ARC’s processes has taken centre stage this year, to make our application submission processes more efficient, and reduce the burden on researchers and research office staff. In this edition of ARChway, we give an update on key changes that have taken place in our systems, and about consultation with our stakeholders to identify and to meet those needs. 

In connection with this, we have worked hard on our sector engagement and communications activities—and articles in this addition expand on just two examples of these events—the Research Administrators’ Seminar, which was held in November that particularly focussed on new Research Office staff, and an induction meeting for our incoming 2018 ITRP Research Hub and Training Centre Directors

Mid-year, we released the ARC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Researchers and Research Statement of Support and Action Plan 2018–2019, which recognises the importance of, and actively supports participation by, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers in the research workforce. We also released an updated ARC Statement of Support and Expectations for Gender Equality and 2018 ARC Gender Equality Action Plan, to support the ARC’s efforts to promote and improve gender equality.

I am also pleased that during June, the ARC made an important step to safeguard the quality and integrity of Australian research. Together with co-authors the National Health and Medical Research Council and Universities Australia, we jointly released a new Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2018 and Guide to Managing Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

Lastly in 2018, we farewelled our Executive General Manager, Ms Leanne Harvey, who had been at the ARC for over ten years, and has had a deeply significant role in shaping the agency over that time. While her leaving is a loss to us, we wish her well in her new endeavours, now to be extending her research sector expertise in a university setting.

New National Interest Test and review of the Research Priorities for the ARC

On 27 November 2018, the Minister for Education and Training, The Hon Dan Tehan, announced 920 successful grants totalling more than $380 million for university research projects to be funded through the ARC. This highly anticipated announcement also provided the details of a new National Interest Test (NIT)—which has now been developed and put in place by the ARC. I will be in consultation with DVCsR from across all universities to take the opportunity to discuss this new development and its implementation directly.

In a nutshell, under the NIT, the previous ‘benefit and impact’ application text has been replaced, for all new funding rounds, with a compulsory field for the applicant to make their case against the NIT. Applicants are asked to explain ‘the extent to which the research will contribute to Australia’s national interest through its potential to have economic, commercial, environmental, social or cultural benefits to the Australian community’. This statement creates no additional burden to researchers in preparing their applications, but does require specifically addressing the NIT definition. 

So what does this mean for the process? As before, ARC assessors will continue to assess applications against the assessment criteria outlined in Grant Guidelines and Selection Advisory Committees will recommend applications to be funded to me, as the ARC CEO. I will then in turn make recommendations of highly-ranked proposals that satisfy the NIT to the Minister for his decision. In determining which grants to approve, the Minister may consider the NIT.

In the longer term, the Minister has also asked the ARC to convene an advisory panel to advise on what priorities should guide Australian Government investment in research in relation to ARC schemes. The starting point for that review will be the Science and Research Priorities issued in 2015, to ensure the priorities, as applied to ARC grants, are relevant and holistic. I hope to announce the membership of this panel soon.

The ARC will continue funding research from all fields of knowledge, which plays a valuable role in advancing Australian research and innovation globally and benefits the community by contributing to national prosperity and wellbeing. A strong research capability across all research disciplines is essential for Australia’s future.

Celebrating research success

As always, in 2018 we have had occasion to delight in the successes of ARC-funded researchers, including Professor Michelle Simmons, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology, named Australian of the Year for 2018, and biophysicist Professor Graham Farquhar AO, who was named Senior Australian of the Year. Both Professors Farquhar and Simmons have received significant ARC funding to support their fabulous research over their careers.

This year, we published our second annual edition of our Making a Difference: Outcomes of ARC-supported research publication. The publication is a snapshot of the research projects underway at universities across Australia—funded with support through the ARC’s National Competitive Grants Program. It demonstrates the high quality research that the ARC enables, and the real difference that it is making to Australia and the world. We are open to accepting suggestions for recent research outcomes for consideration to highlight in our next edition, and you can share it with us at communications@arc.gov.au

And here in this final edition of ARChway, I am pleased we are featuring several articles that expand on the wide-ranging activity of the following ARC-funded researchers:

As always, each of these stories takes us on a journey of discovery, and which often leads us—and the researcher—in many unexpected directions.

And on that note, I’d like to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season. I look forward to seeing what amazing research achievements are in store for us in 2019.

Image: Professor Sue Thomas.
Image courtesy: Norman Plant Photography.