As the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Research Council I am pleased to present the ARC Annual Report 2017–18.
This year has seen the ARC continue to support the growth of knowledge and innovation for the benefit of all Australians through funding the highest quality research, assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research, and providing advice on research matters. By giving some of our brightest minds the funding, support and time that they need for outcomes-focused and ‘discovery’ research, the ARC is assisting researchers to tackle some of the most challenging issues facing Australia.
Significant issues and developments
In 2017–18, the ARC continued to support two new measures announced by the Australian Government in December 2015 as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). Firstly, a continuous application process for the ARC Linkage Projects scheme has been introduced which allows proposals under this scheme to be submitted throughout the year. Secondly, the Engagement and Impact (EI) assessment has involved the development of a nationwide system facilitating the engagement and impact of university research.
The ARC developed a methodology for assessing how well researchers in Australian universities are engaging with the users of their research, the benefits of that research, and the extent to which universities are supporting those activities. This is an important initiative developed through extensive consultation with the university research sector and end-users. It will demonstrate the value of the research conducted in Australian universities and provide incentives for more effective collaboration for the benefit of the Australian community.
In late 2017, a Special Research Initiative (SRI) was established for the PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) Remediation Research Program. The ARC SRI scheme provides funding for new and emerging fields of research and builds capacity in strategically important areas. The PFAS Remediation Research Program is an important initiative that will support the development of innovative technologies to investigate and remediate PFAS contaminated areas, including soil and other solid contaminated debris, groundwater, waterways and marine systems.
To support our commitment to ensuring the highest quality research in Australia, the ARC worked with the National Health and Medical Research Council and Universities Australia to release the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2018 (the Code) and the Guide to Managing Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2018 (the Investigation Guide). The Code, which replaced the previous version (2007), provides a clear set of principles for the ethical conduct of research. The Investigation Guide helps institutions to investigate potential breaches of the Code and determine corrective actions. The Code and Investigation Guide provide assurance that the Australian research effort is underpinned by honesty, rigour, transparency and accountability.
Performance and financial results
Funding the highest quality research
The ARC has a strong commitment to funding the highest quality fundamental and applied research across all disciplines with all fields of knowledge playing a role in contributing to Australia’s future. In 2017–18, the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP) administered 4586 new and ongoing grants, resulting in over $758.030 million in grant payments to administering organisations.
A selection round for the Supporting Responses to Commonwealth Science Council Priorities scheme was conducted for the first time in 2017–18. This scheme aims to support the development of Australian research in priority areas as set by the Commonwealth Science Council.
To showcase the high quality research that the ARC supports, and the difference that it is making to Australia and the world, the ARC compiled a 2017–18 edition of our annual Making a difference—Outcomes of ARC supported research publication. Each edition is a snapshot of research projects underway at universities across Australia that are funded by the ARC. The publication provides examples of ARC supported research projects, across the full spectrum of humanities and social sciences disciplines, through to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines that are delivering cultural, economic, social and/or environmental benefits to Australia.
Assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research
In 2017–18, implementation commenced for the fourth round of Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA 2018). ERA 2018 will evaluate research quality by discipline at Australian universities across the full range of research activities.
In conjunction with ERA, the implementation of an EI assessment which will examine the social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits of Australian university research commenced.
Providing advice on research matters
During the year the ARC continued to participate in policy forums and prepare ARC policies, including:
- reviewing and publishing an updated ARC Research Workforce Statement and ARC Gender Equality in Research Statement (and released the ARC Gender Equality Action Plan 2018–19)
- reviewing and updating the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Researchers and Research: ARC Statement of Support and Action Plan 2018–2019
- evaluating the ARC’s support for Indigenous researchers and Indigenous research
- finalising the ARC Intellectual Property Policy
- releasing a revised ARC Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Policy
- revising the ARC Medical Research Policy.
Building and sustaining a strong organisational capability
The ARC administered a budget of $789.7 million for 2017–18, comprising $764.6 million for the administered appropriation and $25.1 million for the departmental appropriation. Further information on the financial performance of the agency is provided in Section 3.2.
In 2017–18, the ARC expanded its program of direct engagement with grant recipients, holding workshops for research centre staff and new Australian Laureate Fellows. The workshops provided an opportunity for researchers to network and ARC staff to share post-award expectations.
The ARC hosted a forum for the Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellows to share experiences, as well as ideas to promote female researchers. These fellowships are awarded to highly ranked women in the humanities, arts and social science disciplines and the science and technology disciplines respectively, after the Selection Advisory Committee has recommended them as Australian Laureate Fellows. The two fellowships provide additional funding to undertake an ambassadorial role to promote women in research.
Outlook for 2018–19
The ARC will continue to support the research sector to build a strong, diverse and sustainable workforce to ensure Australia’s ongoing research competitiveness. ARC policies and programs will support researchers of the highest calibre, regardless of gender, ethnicity or career stage. The ARC will work with the sector to improve the participation of researchers in the research workforce at all career stages and from under-represented groups.
The ARC has a well-established schedule of responsibilities as indicated by the broad priorities for the coming year outlined in the 2018–19 ARC Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS), listed below, as well as the more detailed strategies and actions identified in our Corporate Plan.
The ARC is proud to support excellent Australian research, the outcomes of which deliver significant cultural, economic, social and environmental benefits to all Australians.
The ARC’s performance during the year was made possible by the support of our stakeholders and staff, and I thank everyone for their contribution. It is vital that the ARC continues to work to support and demonstrate the immense value of publicly funded research in Australia, whether this is through ERA, the EI assessment or by promoting the great outcomes of ARC-funded research.
I look forward to the year ahead and achieving our 2018–19 goals—so that the ARC continues to grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community.