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ARChway December 2019—Message from the CEO

ARC CEO Sue Thomas

Welcome to the final edition of ARChway for 2019, and a Christmas wrap on another big year at the ARC.

Some of our most notable activities during 2019 included the release of our fourth round of Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and the inaugural Engagement and Impact Assessment (EI)—with both national reports released in March this year. 

Following this, we kicked off five months of outreach visits to 42 universities around Australia, which came to a conclusion in November. The invaluable feedback gathered during these visits will inform the upcoming review of ERA and EI, further details of which will be made available on the ARC’s website shortly.

The ERA assessment drew out some interesting longitudinal data and observations, including statistics about female participation in research. Analyses of the data collected as part of the assessment process were presented in the ARC’s Gender and the Research Workforce report, which received significant attention after its release. 

Also in the research evaluation space, this year saw an initial round of public and targeted consultations as part of a joint review of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC) by the ARC together with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Stats NZ, and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). Following this, we have now published the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC) Review Consultation Draft. This is a significant milestone in the review process, and proposed changes to both the Fields of Research (FoR) and Socio-Economic Objectives (SEO) classifications are now available for comment until 10 February 2020. Please read our article included in this edition of ARChway for details about how you can contribute to this important review of research classification.

2019 has seen many announcements of grants under the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP), with $921.8 million announced to date across 1131 new research projects across the ARC’s funding schemes this year*. For some fun facts to illustrate the enormity of the task of supporting the assessment processes that lead up to and flow from these announcements, as of mid-December: the ARC had received a total of 5390 applications, managed 5441 active projects, accepted 5838 End of Year Reports and 1615 Final Reports, and processed 2031 variations to grants agreements. We also supported over 20,887 grants assessors, and logged over 1100 enquiries from the sector.

Engagement with the sector has been continuous throughout the year. An annual event we hold around October each year is our Research Administrator’s Seminar, run in conjunction with the Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). This year, around 140 research office staff from institutions around Australia took the opportunity to network and to engage directly with ARC staff—and we also value the opportunity to hear from the research community about what changes to our processes should be prioritised in the future. Below you can read more about this year’s seminar.

One area where we have made significant moves for change include the area of gender parity in research. In October, we announced the ARC would consult on steps to address gender disparities in the NCGP’s selection rounds, assessment processes and panel memberships. Key aims we have committed to consulting on include gender parity for College of Experts members, and a target of fifty per cent of applications from each institution for the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme to be from women. The ARC is currently undertaking a targeted consultation on these initiatives. 

In a similar vein, the opportunities for targeted engagement at our induction forums always receive positive feedback from attendees. In the last few months we have held induction forums for new College of Experts members, directors of major ARC-funded investments, and our newly-awarded ARC Australian Laureate Fellows.

The ARC Laureate induction day was followed by an official ‘pin ceremony’ event held at Old Parliament House in Canberra, at which Dr Katie Allen MP represented the Minister for Education, the Hon Dan Tehan, and presented pins to our 2019 Laureate Fellows. On the day we heard from Professor Lynette Russell, the 2019 Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow, and Professor Belinda Medlyn, the 2019 Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow, who both gave very inspiring speeches about the difference that the Laureate funding would make to their important research programs. I was honoured to be part of this event.

We have been pleased to see how quickly the research community and members of the public have made full use of the ‘Grants Search’ facility on our website, which gives easy access to a database of public information on grants we have funded. Grant Search II was released earlier this year, and we have now made further improvements to the interface to make it easier to search, and sort results. Grants Search is an important part of the ARC’s commitment to the public release of data we hold as an Australian Government agency, and your feedback on it is welcome.

We have also simplified parental leave arrangements for new grants so that ARC fellowship and award recipients can access funds for up to 14 weeks paid parental leave per child, and we have also simplified the process for ethics clearances to bring them in line with NHMRC practices. More details about all these simplifications are found in the article included below.

This edition also features the work of some our wonderful researchers: Professor Felicity Baker from The University of Melbourne, who is leading a research team to investigate how musical creativity can be a powerful tool in therapy, and Professor Christine Bigby from La Trobe University, whose research is meaningfully advancing the quality of life of people with cognitive disabilities. We also have some great research outcome stories from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science.

It has been a big year for us at the ARC, and I am sure that it has been a busy year for all our research community as well—I sincerely hope you all have a restful break over the holiday period, and I look forward to continuing to support your work through 2020.

Professor Sue Thomas


*Correction: Please note these figures were edited post-issue of ARChway newsletter, to correct an error.

Image: Professor Sue Thomas.
Image credit: ARC, Norman Plant Photography.


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