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ARChway October 2019—CEO column

ARC CEO Sue Thomas

Welcome to a Spring ARChway—and at the ARC we have been busy making many announcements.

This September saw the announcement of seventeen new Australian Laureate Fellows who will share $53.8 million to lead their world-class research teams over the next five years, as well as four projects that will receive $2.7 million through our Special Research Initiative: the PFAS (per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances) Remediation Research Program. This October has also seen the announcement of over $24 million in funding for six new ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centres, and announcement of $87.8 million for 100 new Future Fellows. And just this week we have been pleased to advise the funding of $308.8 million of our 2020 cohort of ARC Centres of Excellence—nine centres which will undertake highly innovative and transformational research across Australia. 

Also in October, the ARC was pleased to release its Gender and the Research Workforce report, a new analysis of staffing data that was collected as part of the ARC’s Excellence in Research for Australia evaluation of research quality within Australia’s higher education institutions. The report, published in interactive format on the ARC website, gives an insight into the Australian research workforce and unfortunately does reinforce many well-known trends regarding gender distribution, including the low proportion of women at senior academic levels. On the brighter side, the report did find that there is gender parity at the early career researcher level, and that there has been incremental movement towards equity in the ratio of men to women in the research workforce overall. You can read more in the article included in this edition.

As well as reporting on the state of the research workforce, the ARC also has an important role in fostering gender equity among researchers. The ARC is proposing significant initiatives that aim to address gender disparity in the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP), and is committed to consult with the sector. Further below we outline the intended steps that the ARC will be consulting the sector about.

In this edition of ARChway, we also bring to you a number of stories along the themes of Outreach and Engagement to let you know what we have been up to in this regard. Like any government agency, outreach is an important activity for the ARC, as it shakes us out of the comfort of our own perspective, engaging with the concerns and ideas held by our community of stakeholders, and this can lead to significant improvements in our processes. Outreach is an important part of the government policy cycle and is continually occurring along several fronts at the ARC, so we are pleased to feature some of these activities here.

ERA and EI—Outreach and next steps

Following the release of the State of Australian University Research: ERA National Report 2018–19, and the Engagement and Impact Assessment National Report 2018–19 in March 2019, the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and Engagement and Impact (EI) teams at the ARC have spent a large part of the last few months visiting universities to discuss the outcomes and seek feedback.

This has been an important exercise as it has allowed ARC staff to speak directly with senior staff and those charged with managing the ERA and EI processes within Australian universities, providing a great deal of valuable feedback in both directions.

Outreach visits will continue through until November 2019 and will inform a comprehensive review of ERA and EI by the ARC, which is currently being planned. Further details regarding the scope and timing of the review will be announced in due course. Slides presented during the visits, covering the national outcomes, are now available on the ARC website.

On this note, I am pleased to confirm that the next rounds of ERA will take place in 2023 and EI will take place the following year, in 2024. The revised timing of these next rounds reflects strong feedback from the university sector about the challenges they face in participating in the programs when run concurrently on a three-year cycle. It will also facilitate the adoption of any changes to reporting requirements arising from the current review of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification and the ARC’s upcoming review of the ERA and EI programs.

Further information about the timing and future reporting requirements for ERA and EI will be made available in due course.

NCGP outreach activity

Following a successful premiere last year, our Postaward team held their second finance workshop this August, which was aimed at research office staff who manage the financial administration of our NCGP, including variations of funding agreements, institutional reviews, and end of year reporting. In a short article in this edition of ARChwaywe describe how the workshop is part of our ongoing commitment to building effective working relationships with research office staff around Australia.

Another outreach activity featured in this edition is a series of visits undertaken by ARC staff to engage with our PFAS (per- and poly- fluoralkylsubstances Remediation Program round 1 grant holders who have received funding through our Special Research Initiative to address PFAS contamination in the environment.

More outreach is coming up on 29-30 October 2019, with our Research Administrators’ Seminar, held in association with the Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) and in partnership with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). An important annual event for the ARC calendar—as well as giving an overview of the ARC and the funding landscape—it has a particular focus on those who are new to research administration. 

Looking further ahead, other outreach events on the way include an induction program for our newly awarded Australian Laureate Fellows, several opening events for Industrial Transformation Training Centres and Research Hubs, and visits to universities by ARC staff and Executive Directors.

Also in this edition

In this edition we feature an update on the ARC streamlining process, itself an outcome of feedback from the sector, resulting in changes to our application forms, and grant guidelines. We have also received positive feedback on changes already made to our grants processes, and always welcome more as feedback our streamlining initiative rolls forward. 

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET) has authored a story for this edition of ARChway about their new women-only fellowships, which are aimed at early career researchers, and promise to ‘shift the dial’ towards a goal of 30% representation of women across all levels at FLEET. Against a background of very low levels of women researchers in STEM fields in Australia—as highlighted by our Gender and the Research Workforce report—this is a commendable goal, and their article details the steps they are taking to enact positive change. 

As always, we feature stories of fantastic research in ARChway and this edition shines a light on the work being undertaken by researchers at the ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Mine Site Restoration, led by Professor Kingsley Dixon and based at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. This Training Centre is collaborating with mining companies and indigenous communities to reinstate the natural ecosystem disrupted as part of mining operations. Key to this operation is the planting of ‘smart seed’ that incorporates learnings from Professor Dixon’s earlier research into the key chemical in smoke, Karrikinolide, that causes seeds to germinate following a bushfire.

Another researcher featured in this edition, whose work also takes her into remote regions of the Australian outback is Associate Professor Siobhan McHugh. Based at the University of Wollongong, Professor McHugh describes her research as ‘listening’ as she records oral history interviews with indigenous artists, art centre staff and gallerists, to put indigenous voices front and centre. Her skill as a researcher is to capture the non-verbal elements of oral history, and in doing so to create new knowledge and new meaning. 

So as usual, this is another packed edition of our newsletter, and with the end of the year fast approaching, we are all very busy and looking forward to engaging with our stakeholders in many ways over the coming months. I hope you all enjoy the stories featured here, and we hope to have more updates ready for you before Christmas.

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

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