This mid-year edition of our newsletter comes as we enter Australia's staged easing of COVID-19 restrictions that have been affecting us all. 

While there has been much uncertainty in the sector over the past few months, I would like to reiterate that the ARC will continue to respond and adapt to continue to deliver the necessary processes for funding outcomes that will support researchers during the recovery period and beyond.  

Indeed, since the last edition of ARChway was issued in March, the Minister for Education, The Hon. Dan Tehan has announced $46 million in funding for successful Linkage Projects. This brings the total number of Linkage Projects for the 2019 round funded to 175 and total funding awarded for 2019 to $78.2 million. In April 2020, the Minister also announced $56 million in funding of the ARC’s Special Research Initiative in Excellence in Antarctic Science

Also since the last edition of ARChway, I have also provided a series of updates to the research sector through ARC Network Messages outlining ARC support for researchers impacted by COVID-19, including researchers on active ARC projects and researchers planning applications for future ARC support. 

We are continuing to address issues as they come to hand and develop contingencies for impacts for the many ARC-funded researchers, current or prospective, and indeed for the research administrators, peer review assessors and selection advisory committee members affected.

Post-award guidance

The ARC has published post award guidance material to assist researchers and administrators working on active ARC projects impacted by COVID-19. The guidance introduces temporary measures to allow greater flexibility and streamlining of post award processes. The guidance takes into account Grant Agreement requirements and seeks to provide a balance between accountability for expenditure of public money and easing the burden on researchers and administrators at this time. 

Acknowledging that COVID-19 is affecting researchers and the progress of research projects in a variety of ways, the guidance provides options for researchers and administrators to consider in responding to the specific impact on their project. The guidance covers streamlined mechanisms to notify some variations through the ARC’s End of Year Report process, extensions to notification and reporting deadlines, other variations that will be considered due to the impact of COVID-19, and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). 

Peer review processes

Despite the significant disruptions that the sector is experiencing, the ARC’s assessor community is continuing to provide assessments for over 4000 grant applications. We greatly appreciate this critical contribution to peer review processes and all of the assessors that will ensure delivery of funding outcomes that support Australian research in the recovery period and beyond. 

Assessment processes are continuing for all submitted applications, and the ARC recently held the Selection Advisory Committee (SAC) meetings for Future Fellowships 2020, Australian Laureate Fellowships 2020 and Industrial Transformation Research Program 2020. Given the current situation with COVID-19 these meetings were held via video conferencing and SAC members have responded supportively to this change of meeting format.

And while on the subject of peer review, I am also pleased to announce that nominations for the 2021 ARC College of Experts has opened and encourage you to submit your nominations for this important peer review role. Please read more below about how you can nominate to join the College of Experts.

2020-21 NCGP scheme timelines

We have recently published the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) scheme timelines for 2020-21 on the ARC website’s Grant Calendar

In developing the NCGP timelines each year, our aim is to minimise the overlap of major scheme activities as much as possible to balance workloads of researchers, research administrators and assessors. In addition to COVID-19 impacts, the ARC has also taken into account historical timelines, public holiday and major holiday periods, and the grant application periods for the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). 

The ARC has also considered advice received from Deputy Vice-Chancellors (Research) and Research Office Directors. While we were unable to accommodate all of the changes requested in adjusting the 2020-21 timelines, since feedback between institutions varied, we will again take them into account in developing next year’s timelines.

I hope that this update provides some reassurance about the support we are working to provide you with. We wish all of you, and your families, well during this time and look forward to continuing to support you to the best of our ability.

Professor Sue Thomas