Overview

The Discovery Projects scheme provides funding for excellent fundamental research projects that can be undertaken by individual researchers or research teams.

The objectives of Discovery Projects are to:

  • support excellent basic and applied research by individuals and teams;
  • encourage high-quality research and research training;
  • enhance international collaboration in research;
  • expand Australia’s knowledge base and research capability; and
  • enhance the scale and focus of research in the Australian Government’s Science and Research Priorities.

Selection Process

Applications for funding commencing in 2020 opened on 10 December 2018, and closed on 27 February 2019. Applications were submitted through the Australian Research Council (ARC) Research Management System (RMS). This report outlines recommendations from the ARC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to the Minister.

These recommendations are based on advice from the ARC Selection Advisory Committee which: 

  • assigned independent assessors to review the applications
  • assessed applications and reviewed assessments made by independent assessors
  • reviewed applicants comments on assessors’ reports
  • ranked each application relative to the others on the basis of the application, the assessors’ reports and applicants responses to those assessments
  • assessed and recommended budgets; 

and, advice from the ARC’s National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) Eligibility Committee which:

  • considered eligibility issues identified by ARC staff, the ARC College of Experts or independent assessors 
  • where required, sought advice from the ARC’s Medical Research Advisory Group
  • made recommendations to the CEO in respect of ineligible applications.

This report reflect the funding recommendations to the Minister. Unless otherwise specified, data presented in this report exclude withdrawn applications.

Assessment Criteria

Assessment criteria and corresponding weightings for Discovery Projects 2020 applications are: 

Investigator(s)         (35%) 
Project Quality and Innovation   (40%)
Feasibility (10%)
Benefit   (15%)

The ARC assessment process for Discovery Projects 2020 used 80 ARC Selection Advisory Committee members across five discipline panels and was managed in the RMS. A total of 10,005 independent assessors’ reports were submitted to the ARC.

Funding levels and duration

Funding of between $30,000 and $500,000 per annum for up to five years may be awarded for each Discovery Project application.

Summary of Outcomes

The ARC received a total of 2877 applications for Discovery Projects for funding commencing in 2020, of which two applications were withdrawn. This represents a 1.6 per cent decrease from the 2924 Discovery Project applications received for funding commencing in 2019. Of the unsuccessful applications, 46 did not meet eligibility requirements.

The overall success rate for Discovery Projects for funding commencing in 2020 is 23.0 per cent, with a higher percentage of allocation of requested funds compared to funding that commenced in 2019. A comparison of success rates and funding amounts is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Comparison of application numbers, success rates, requested and allocated funds for approved Discovery Project applications from 2019 to 2020

Funding year

Applications considered

Applications approved

Success rate (%)

Requested funds over project life for all applications considered ($)

Requested funds over project life for approved applications ($)

Funds allocated over project life for approved applications ($)

Return rate for approved applications (%)

2019

2,921

654

22.4

$1,621,899,946

$371,198,944

$262,590,367

70.7

2020

2,875

660

23.0

$1,641,948,285

$387,282,768

$284,952,924

73.6

Outcomes by discipline 

A summary of outcomes by discipline panel is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Application numbers, success rates and requested and allocated funds for approved Discovery Projects 2020 applications by discipline

Discipline †

Applications considered

Applications  approved

Success rate (%)

Requested funds over project life for all applications considered ($)

Requested funds over project life for approved applications ($)

Funds over project
 life for approved applications ($)

Return
Rate for approved applications (%)

BSB

700

150

21.4

$467,381,014

$102,665,794

$77,894,232

75.9

EIC

743

169

22.7

$411,621,921

$99,068,951

$71,860,383

72.5

HCA

287

70

24.4

$135,957,239

$32,194,309

$23,356,618

72.5

MPCE

639

153

23.9

$365,943,319

$93,409,337

$68,033,262

72.8

SBE

506

118

23.3

$261,044,792

$59,944,377

$43,808,429

73.1

Total

2875

660

23.0

$1,641,948,285

$387,282,768

$284,952,924

73.6

† BSB – Biological Sciences and Biotechnology; EIC – Engineering, Information and Computing Sciences; HCA – Humanities and Creative Arts; MPCE – Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences; SBE – Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences

Outcomes by Science and Research Priorities

A summary of outcomes by Science and Research Priorities is shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Approved funding and success rate for Discovery Projects 2020 applications by Science and Research Priorities

Science and Research Priorities

Applications considered

Applications

approved

Success
rate (%)

Approved funds over project life

Advanced manufacturing

467

101

21.6

$46,950,098

Cybersecurity

117

35

29.9

$14,605,975

Energy

142

33

23.2

$14,954,157

Environmental change

349

85

24.4

$36,300,596

Food

136

31

22.8

$14,800,730

Health

305

61

20

$26,198,112

Resources

75

23

30.7

$9,153,531

Soil and water

76

9

11.8

$4,265,370

Transport

73

19

26

$7,416,654

Unspecified

1135

263

23.2

$110,307,701

Total

2875

660

23

$284,952,924

Total within Science and Research Priorities

1740

397

22.8

$174,645,223

Percentage within Science and Research Priorities (%)

60.5

60.2

 

61.3

Outcomes by Administering Organisation

A summary of outcomes by Administering Organisation is shown in Table 4.

Table 4.  Number of applications and success rates for approved Discovery Projects 2020 applications by Administering Organisation

Administering Organisation

Applications considered

Applications approved

Success rate (%)

Funds over project life for approved applications ($)

Australian Capital Territory

172

55

32

$23,615,509

The Australian National University

164

55

33.5

$23,615,509

University of Canberra

8

0

0

$0

New South Wales

945

218

23.1

$92,322,316

Australian Catholic University

9

2

22.2

$986,065

Charles Sturt University

4

0

0

$0

Macquarie University

105

23

21.9

$9,662,148

Southern Cross University

10

2

20

$712,487

The University of New England

18

1

5.6

$351,803

The University of New South Wales

296

72

24.3

$30,818,887

The University of Newcastle

70

13

18.6

$5,327,689

The University of Sydney

239

58

24.3

$25,506,240

University of Technology Sydney

99

20

20.2

$8,533,546

University of Wollongong

58

18

31

$6,860,255

Western Sydney University

37

9

24.3

$3,563,196

Northern Territory

4

1

25

$348,536

Charles Darwin University

4

1

25

$348,536

Queensland

420

95

22.6

$42,830,577

Central Queensland University

6

3

50

$1,494,719

Griffith University

63

7

11.1

$3,140,073

James Cook University

9

3

33.3

$1,375,082

Queensland University of Technology

82

18

22

$7,717,690

The University of Queensland

246

62

25.2

$28,216,725

University of Southern Queensland

6

0

0

$0

University of the Sunshine Coast

8

2

25

$886,288

South Australia

193

40

20.7

$16,628,229

Flinders University

46

8

17.4

$3,830,011

The University of Adelaide

122

27

22.1

$10,887,021

University of South Australia

25

5

20

$1,911,197

Tasmania

57

11

19.3

$4,395,063

University of Tasmania

57

11

19.3

$4,395,063

Victoria

875

198

22.6

$87,256,071

Deakin University

55

8

14.5

$3,294,577

Federation University Australia

5

0

0

$0

La Trobe University

52

9

17.3

$3,349,187

Monash University

311

83

26.7

$36,452,728

RMIT University

72

17

23.6

$7,370,629

Swinburne University of Technology

62

11

17.7

$4,624,325

The University of Melbourne

308

65

21.1

$29,817,574

Victoria University

10

5

50

$2,347,051

Western Australia

209

42

20.1

$17,556,623

Curtin University

76

11

14.5

$3,921,531

Edith Cowan University

10

1

10

$380,000

Murdoch University

9

3

33.3

$1,018,071

The University of Western Australia

114

27

23.7

$12,237,021

Total

2875

660

23

$284,952,924

Career age and gender

Of the 6555 Chief Investigators (CIs) in this round, 1883 were female, 4654 were male and 18 were unspecified. The success rate for female, male and unspecified CIs in this round of Discovery Projects is 25.0 per cent, 22.7 per cent and 16.7 per cent respectively. 
Success rates of CIs by career age and gender in the current Discovery Projects round are presented in Figure 1. CIs who did not provide gender information (0.3 per cent) and CIs who did not specify the date of completion of their PhD or who do not hold a PhD (1.1 per cent) are not represented in the figure below.

Figure 1. Participation and success rate of Chief Investigators (CIs) in Discovery Projects 2020 by gender and career age*

*Career age is calculated as years since PhD based on most relevant qualification.

International Collaboration

Among 2875 of the applications considered, applicants foreshadowed 4469 instances of collaboration with researchers in 117 overseas locations. Of the applications approved for funding, 523 foreshadowed 1114 instances of collaboration with researchers in 74 overseas locations (Figure 2).

Figure 2. International collaborations by location in approved Discovery Project 2020 applications*

*The top 10 international collaboration locations are listed in Figure 2 and the remaining locations are grouped in the ‘Other’ category.

Discovery International Awards

Discovery International Awards (DIAs) aim to enhance opportunities for collaboration among researchers, research teams and/or research centres in Australia and overseas, and to build Australia’s international research capability. A summary of the outcomes for DIA requests is shown in Table 5.

Table 5.  Number of Discovery Projects 2020 applications approved for one or more Discovery International Awards (DIAs)

Funding year

Number of submitted applications requesting one or more DIAs

Number of applications approved with one or more DIAs

2019

609

115

2020

521

98