Welcome message from the CEO

Professor Sue Thomas

Welcome to our third edition of ARChway newsletter for 2018. And, with footy finals in all codes upon us, it means we are about to enter the final quarter of the year ourselves.

The pace of activity at the ARC has continued as vigorously as ever, as we roll through our grant scheme schedules and funding announcements. Work has also ramped up markedly with the 2018 round of Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and our first Engagement and Impact Assessment (EI) in full swing. 

Here are just some of the significant happenings since our last edition… 

New Minister

In late August, we welcomed our new Minister for Education, the Hon Dan Tehan MP, who assumed responsibility for the Australian Government’s Education and Training portfolio. At the ARC, we look forward to working with Minister Tehan, as we carry out our key activities to grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community.

ARC Advisory Council

In July, I was pleased to announce the new members of the ARC Advisory Council, who will provide strategic guidance to the ARC on key policy issues and strengthen our ability to support research and innovation in Australia. 

Launch of the ARC 2018–19 Corporate Plan

During August, we released the ARC 2018–19 Corporate Plan, which is the blueprint for our continued success in growing knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community. Our Corporate Plan is an integral part of our planning and reporting framework, and clearly conveys the direction the ARC will take over the coming four years. During the course of this plan, the ARC will work hard to fulfil its purpose—to fund the highest quality research, assess the quality, engagement and impact of research, and provide advice on research matters. 

Through the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP), the ARC will continue to provide support for the highest-quality research and research training. In 2018–19, this will include delivering funding outcomes for two strategic research initiatives—a new Special Research Initiative in Excellence in Antarctic Science (SRIEAS) and the PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) Remediation Research Program, which is now underway.

Other key areas of focus for the ARC over the next year will be to:

  • identify ways to streamline and simplify NCGP processes using advances in technology to provide new opportunities for improvement in our administrative processes across the whole grant life cycle—from application to completion 
  • identify innovative ways to create new partnerships across Australia’s research and innovation system—between researchers and industry, government, community organisations and the international community
  • continue to develop policies and programs to support our research sector to build a strong, diverse and sustainable workforce—to ensure Australia’s ongoing research competitiveness
  • support the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) by conducting a continuous application process under the Linkage Projects scheme, and administering EI.

Continued improvements in organisational capability are also high priorities in our plan, and we will continue to build on our strong organisational capabilities—our people, our processes, structures and systems. 

I look forward to leading the ARC throughout the course of the plan to achieve our stated outcomes.

Streamlining the ARC’s processes

As part of our commitment to streamlining ARC processes, we are introducing better ways of using our Research Management System (RMS) to reduce duplication, information quantity and application length. This will make our application submission process more efficient, and reduce the burden on researchers and research office staff.

This will include the ability to integrate important and relevant Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) information into a researcher’s RMS profile information, and the ability to better determine proposal eligibility before submission. This will have important, positive flow-on effects for researchers and research offices, such as significant time and effort savings, flagging of eligibility issues early, and ensuring we only ask for what we require. 

You can read more about these changes in our more detailed stories below about ORCID integration into RMS and Improved eligibility management in RMS.

Support for Indigenous researchers and research

The ARC is continuing to strengthen our support for a diverse research workforce, including those from underrepresented groups. Our commitment to diversity is demonstrated by encouraging all researchers to submit applications, participate in the peer review processes and serve on ARC committees. 

We support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, research students and research under all schemes of the NCGP, and specifically through the Discovery Indigenous scheme, which funds research projects led by Indigenous researchers.

The ARC also draws on the diversity and experience of the ARC Advisory Council, the ARC College of Experts, selection advisory committee members, research assessment committees and research leaders and institutions including the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), for advice on mechanisms and strategies to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and research.

In June this year, we released the ARC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Researchers and Research Statement of Support and Action Plan 2018–2019 (updated from our 2017 statement and action plan), which recognises the importance of, and actively supports participation by, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers in the research workforce. The statement and plan sets out the initiatives in place and actions for the coming year. For more information about this year’s plan, see article: Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and research.

Funding Announcements

On 2 August 2018, the then Minister for Education and Training, the Hon. Simon Birmingham, announced funding for 132 new research projects, worth $180.4 million, under the Future Fellowships, Australian Laureate Fellowships, Industrial Transformation Training Centres, Industrial Transformation Research Hubs and Linkage Projects schemes.

On 10 August 2018, nine research projects, worth $8.2 million in funding were announced, under the first round of the ARC’s Special Research Initiative PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) Remediation Research Program, to address PFAS contamination in the environment.
 

Australian Laureate Fellowships pin ceremony and publication launch 

In August, the ARC celebrated the 2018 recipients of the Australian Laureate Fellowships, with a commemorative pin ceremony at the Australian Parliament House. Representing the then Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Mr Andrew Laming MP attended the event, awarding our newest Australian Laureate Fellows with their pins. 

This event was also an opportune time to showcase the outcomes of ARC-funded across all ARC schemes, with the launch of our second edition of our annual publication, Making a difference—Outcomes of ARC supported research. In assembling this book, we made a concentrated effort to feature research from all across the sector, from universities big and small, and from all research disciplines. 

At the event, selected researchers from a number of universities featured in this edition were invited to showcase their research—research that is making waves outside of the laboratory, outside of the research sector, and impacting our understanding of the world and the way we live our lives. You can read more about this event in our story Celebrating our newest Australian Laureate Fellows and research that ‘Makes a difference’.

Centres of Excellence 2014 cohort mid-term reviews

Over the last year, the ARC conducted 12 reviews of ARC Centres of Excellence commencing in 2014, with 24 external experts participating alongside ARC Executive Directors. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the panel members, ARC staff and the ARC Centres of Excellence for their hard work in conducting these reviews.

The reviews evaluated each ARC Centre of Excellence for its excellence in research, capacity building, collaborations, networking and other benefits. The reviews findings were overall very positive, with recommendations summarised into a detailed review report and provided to the centre and its Administering Organisation. These reviews are an important independent process, not only for the ARC Centres of Excellence, but also for the ARC about the progress of these important investments.

2018 Eureka Prizes

Once again, ARC-funded researchers were well-represented amongst the finalists and winners recognised in the 2018 Eureka Prizes for making significant contributions to Australian science and research in Australia. We are always thrilled to see that ARC funding is supporting Australia’s very best researchers and research leaders. 

ANZSRC Review

I recently announced that the ARC is working with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Statistics New Zealand, and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to comprehensively review the Australian and New Zealand Research Classification (ANZSRC). The review will ensure that the classification remains contemporary and reflects current research practices.

Planning is underway, with the review to occur in 2019. Information on the review process, including avenues for providing feedback, will be made available on the ARC website as it becomes available. I expect the revised classification to be released in mid-2020.

ERA and EI progress

The ARC is continuing with the ERA 2018 process. Our eight Research Evaluation Committees are well underway with their evaluations, and I am grateful to the many peer reviewers who have contributed to this process. Their contribution is essential to the success of the ERA methodology.

The 2018 EI Panels have also commenced their assessments and will be working over the coming months to help us deliver the inaugural round of EI.

In the meantime, ARC staff are considering how we will report data from both ERA 2018 and EI 2018 to highlight Australia’s research strengths and show how universities are translating their research into economic, social, environmental and other impacts.

Our EGM is moving to QUT

Finally, earlier this month I advised the sector that our Executive General Manager, Ms Leanne Harvey, would be departing the ARC in December to take up the position of Vice-President (Administration) and Registrar at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Our loss is QUT’s gain—so after many years (and many CEOs) at the ARC, we all wish Leanne a fond farewell.
 

I hope you enjoy reading this edition of ARChway which also features wonderful stories about:

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