Overview

The Discovery Projects scheme reflects the Australian Government’s commitment to excellence in research by supporting grant funding to support research projects that may be undertaken by individual researchers or research teams.

The objectives of the Discovery Projects scheme are to: 

  • support excellent basic and applied research and research training by individuals and teams;
  • support national and international research collaboration; and
  • enhance the scale and focus of research in Australian Government priority areas.

Selection process

Applications for funding commencing in 2021 opened on 13 November 2019 and closed on 26 February 2020. 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 (SAC) which: 

  • assigned independent assessors to review the applications
  • assessed applications and reviewed assessments made by independent assessors
  • reviewed candidates’ comments on assessors’ reports
  • ranked each application relative to the others on the basis of the application, the assessors’ reports and candidates’ 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 members of 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 reflects the funding recommendations to the Minister. Unless otherwise specified, data represented in this report exclude withdrawn applications.      

Assessment criteria

All applications that meet the eligibility criteria for the Discovery Projects 2021 applications were assessed and merit ranked using the following assessment criteria:

Investigator(s)/Capability (35%)

Describe:

  • Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE);
  • time and capacity to undertake the research;
  • evidence of experience in research training, mentoring and supervision (where appropriate); and
  • the capability of the investigator or team to build collaborations both within Australia and internationally.

Project quality and innovation (40%)

Describe the:

  • contribution to an important gap in knowledge or significant problem;
  • novelty/originality and innovation of the proposed research (including any new methods, technologies, theories or ideas that will be developed);
  • clarity of the hypothesis, theories and research questions;
  • cohesiveness of the project design and implementation plan (including the appropriateness of the aim, conceptual framework, method, data and/or analyses); and
  • extent to which the research has the potential to enhance international collaboration.

Benefit (15%)

Describe the potential benefits including the:

  • new or advanced knowledge resulting from outcomes of the research;
  • economic, commercial, environmental, social and/or cultural benefits for Australia and international communities; and
  • potential contribution to capacity in the Australian Government’s National Science and Research Priorities and other priorities identified by Government.

Feasibility (10%)

Describe the:

  • cost-effectiveness of the research and its value for money;
  • suitability of the environment for the research team and their project, and for HDR students where appropriate;
  • availability of the necessary facilities to complete the project; and
  • extent to which the project’s design, participants and requested budget create confidence in the timely and successful completion of the project.

If the project involves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research describe:

  • the strategies for enabling collaboration with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities where appropriate (for example, dialogue/collaboration with an Indigenous cultural mentor); and
  • any existing or developing, supportive and high quality research communities. 

Assessment process

The ARC assessment process for Discovery Projects 2021 involved 80 College of Experts members across five discipline panels and was managed in RMS. A total of 10,766 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 3027 applications for Discovery Projects for funding commencing in 2021, of which eight applications were withdrawn. 

The overall success rate for Discovery Projects for funding commencing in 2021 is 20.0 per cent, with 603 Discovery Projects approved for funding. A comparison of success rates and funding amounts is shown in Table 1.

Of the unsuccessful applications in 2021, 26 were found not to meet eligibility requirements and five were recommended to, but not funded by the Minister.

Table 1. Comparison of application numbers, success rates, requested and allocated funds for approved Discovery Projects applications from 2020 to 2021

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 (%)

2020

2875

660

23.0

$1,641,948,285

$387,282,768

$284,952,924

73.6

2021

3019

603

20.00

$1,760,327,397

$371,657,208

$260,034,079

70.0

*May include indicative funding amounts 

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 2021 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

784

164

20.9

$546,806,340

$120,383,480

$83,808,816

69.6

EIC

770

143

18.6

$436,774,699

$88,596,990

$59,928,279

67.6

HCA

292

57

19.5

$127,712,964

$26,118,445

$18,208,630

69.7

MPCE

623

123

19.7

$365,334,622

$75,408,044

$53,722,175

71.2

SBE

550

116

21.1

$283,698,772

$61,150,249

$44,366,179

72.6

Total

3019

603

20.0

$1,760,327,397

$371,657,208

$260,034,079

70.0

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

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 2021 applications by Science and Research Priorities

Science and Research Priorities

Applications considered

Applications

approved

Success
rate (%)

Approved funds over project life ($)

Advanced manufacturing

489

107

21.9

$44,769,691

Cybersecurity

119

27

22.7

$11,258,471

Energy

140

25

17.9

$11,429,582

Environmental change

407

82

20.1

$36,628,016

Food

124

28

22.6

$13,701,187

Health

334

61

18.3

$26,767,974

Resources

64

7

10.9

$2,816,404

Soil and water

89

14

15.7

$6,609,020

Transport

82

15

18.3

$6,536,512

Unspecified

1171

237

20.2

$99,517,222

Total

3019

603

20.0

$260,034,079

Total within Science and Research Priorities

1848

366

19.8

$160,516,857

Percentage within Science and Research Priorities (%)

61.2

60.7

 

61.7

Outcomes by Administering Organisation

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

Table 4. Numbers of applications and success rates for approved Discovery Projects 2021 applications by Administering Organisation

Administering Organisation

Applications Considered

Applications approved

Success rate (%)

Funds over project life for approved applications ($)

Australian Capital Territory

150

36

24.0

$16,009,115

The Australian National University

140

34

24.3

$15,120,465

University of Canberra

10

2

20.0

$888,650

New South Wales

1016

191

18.8

$83,793,458

Australian Catholic University

23

4

17.4

$1,853,137

Charles Sturt University

5

0

0.0

$0

Macquarie University

101

14

13.9

$5,142,464

Southern Cross University

16

1

6.3

$364,850

The University of New England

9

0

0.0

$0

The University of New South Wales

306

68

22.2

$32,917,472

The University of Newcastle

88

14

15.9

$5,191,356

The University of Sydney

261

49

18.8

$20,986,078

University of Technology Sydney

115

23

20.0

$9,779,446

University of Wollongong

59

12

20.3

$5,090,233

Western Sydney University

33

6

18.2

$2,468,422

Northern Territory

9

4

44.4

$1,624,505

Charles Darwin University

9

4

44.4

$1,624,505

Queensland

461

80

17.4

$32,772,255

Bond University

1

0

0.0

$0

Central Queensland University

4

1

25.0

$425,912

Griffith University

86

15

17.4

$6,021,081

James Cook University

13

1

7.7

$401,000

Queensland University of Technology

86

13

15.1

$4,917,549

The University of Queensland

255

47

18.4

$19,787,676

University of Southern Queensland

9

2

22.2

$941,578

University of the Sunshine Coast

7

1

14.3

$277,459

South Australia

212

31

14.6

$13,178,713

Flinders University

44

4

9.1

$1,725,753

The University of Adelaide

133

21

15.8

$9,227,942

University of South Australia

35

6

17.1

$2,225,018

Tasmania

52

8

15.4

$3,957,269

University of Tasmania

52

8

15.4

$3,957,269

Victoria

929

210

22.6

$90,304,623

Deakin University

67

14

20.9

$4,906,297

Federation University Australia

6

0

0.0

$0

La Trobe University

54

10

18.5

$4,182,332

Monash University

317

83

26.2

$35,902,333

RMIT University

80

15

18.8

$5,740,238

Swinburne University of Technology

57

10

17.5

$4,305,887

The University of Melbourne

338

78

23.1

$35,267,536

Victoria University

10

0

0.0

$0

Western Australia

190

43

22.6

$18,394,141

Curtin University

59

13

22.0

$4,692,187

Edith Cowan University

7

2

28.6

$637,674

Murdoch University

7

0

0.0

$0

The University of Notre Dame Australia

2

0

0.0

$0

The University of Western Australia.

115

28

24.3

$13,064,280

Total

3019

603

20.0

$260,034,079

Career age and gender

Of the 7118 Chief Investigators (CIs) named in applications in this round, 2110 were female, 4972 were male and 36 chose not to specify their gender. The success rate for female, male and unspecified CIs in this round of Discovery Projects is 20.7 per cent, 19.8 per cent and 13.9 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 (0.5 per cent) and CIs who did not specify the date of completion of their PhD or who do not hold a PhD (0.8 per cent) are not represented in the figure below.

Figure 1. Participation and success rate of Chief Investigators in Discovery Projects 2021 by gender and career age*

* Career age is calculated as years since PhD (or equivalent). The earliest PhD award date was used where there was more than one PhD.

International collaboration

Among 3019 of the applications considered, applicants foreshadowed 4862 instances of collaboration with researchers in 107 overseas locations. Of the applications approved for funding, 503 foreshadowed 1029 instances of collaboration with researchers in 69 overseas locations (Figure 2).

Figure 2. International collaborations by location in approved Discovery Projects 2021 applications*

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