Chapter 1 Review by the Chief Executive Officer
Professor Aidan Byrne
I am pleased to present the Australian Research Council (ARC) annual report for the 2014–15 financial year.
The ARC supports the growth of knowledge and innovation through delivery of the National Competitive Grants Programme (NCGP), Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) and advice to government on research matters. I consider myself extremely fortunate as Chief Executive Officer of the ARC to be able to be involved with these activities.
National Competitive Grants Programme
Under the NCGP, the ARC awarded 1368 new research grants commencing in 2014–15 with total funding of over $662.8 million. The new grants included:
- under the Discovery programme—366 fellowships, 665 Discovery Projects grants, and 10 Discovery Indigenous grants
- under the Linkage programme—251 Linkage Projects grants, 66 Linkage Infrastructure grants, five Industrial Transformation Training Centres and four Industrial Transformation Research Hubs and one initiative delivered through the Special Research Initiatives scheme.
The new grants identified above:
- helped Australia retain excellent researchers at all career stages (including early- and mid-career researchers)
- supported the development and maintenance of research partnerships between Australian universities, industry and organisations in other research sectors
- included funding for nine new research hubs and training centres, building partnerships between universities and industry in areas of industrial transformation
- supported establishment of the Antarctic Gateway Partnership, a research collaboration between the University of Tasmania, CSIRO and the Australian Antarctic Division
- supported participation in the research workforce by all diversity groups, including Indigenous researchers and women
- provided access to infrastructure support to research groups across Australia and internationally
- supported the very best Australian researchers to mentor new researchers and help build scale and focus in their areas of research endeavour.
Research funded by the ARC is among the very best of research conducted in the world and we have high expectations for the outcomes of that research. It is human nature to be impressed by the big discoveries or research that we can understand—technology and medical advances, for example—but it is important to remember that research conducted at all scales, across all disciplines, has the potential to impact our lives. The examples provided in Chapter 3 of this report are a very useful reminder of this.
ERA is a unique undertaking within the Australia Government's research evaluation framework. It is a comprehensive evaluation of all research conducted in Australian universities benchmarked against international standards. In 2014–15 the ARC's focus was on implementing ERA 2015 and it was a busy year.
In the second half of 2014, the ARC released the submission documentation, visited universities Australia-wide to provide information about the process, and completed electronic identification tagging of all Australian research publications. The pace of preparations continued unabated in 2015 with the finalisation of membership of the ERA Research Evaluation Committees (RECs) (selected from a pool of more than 700 national and international researchers nominated by the sector) and engagement of approximately 1300 nominated peer reviewers.
In recent months, all 41 eligible universities successfully completed their ERA submissions. Throughout February, March and April, universities uploaded data about every aspect of their research activity (including research outputs, income, applied and esteem measures) over the ERA reference periods and the ERA REC members and ERA peer reviewers were assigned their tasks. At the time I write this review, the evaluation stage is well underway, with release of the final report expected before the end of the year.
During 2014–15 the ARC was also actively involved in a range of conversations around possible ways of evaluating research either differently or more efficiently. In relation to alternative options, the role of impact in the measurement of research excellence continued to be a focus with a model continuing to be developed. The ARC and Department of Education and Training also investigated possible options for aligning the ERA and Higher Education Research Data Collection. Preliminary investigations indicate that there is streamlining to be achieved and the ARC and Department worked with a range of universities on how best to do this.
Translating what the ARC wants to achieve into best practice delivery mechanisms is by no means an easy task and during 2014–15 we continued to monitor and develop policy to support our responsibilities in relation to both the NCGP and ERA.
In response to Government expectations identified in the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda (October 2014) we reviewed the extent to which researchers with industry experience can access ARC funding. Our selection criterion Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence makes an important contribution to this objective. We also started to look at options for best supporting the Government's Boosting the Commercial Returns of Research Strategy (released on 26 May).
We amended our Medical and Open Access policies and released new policies dealing with Research Integrity and Misconduct, and Conflict of Interest. Research integrity is a growing area of concern, both within Australia and internationally, and continued vigilance is required to ensure the reputation of Australian research and researchers is maintained.
Delivery against our mission or outcome would not be possible without strong organisational capability and a high performing culture across the ARC. In essence we could not achieve what we are tasked with achieving without: a strong foundation in programme delivery, including processes and ICT systems; a commitment to stakeholder engagement and advocacy for research; strong financial management arrangements; and our highly skilled and committed staff.
Programme delivery and ICT systems
In August 2014 the ARC released a new grants management system—RMS 2.0—to reduce the burden on researchers and universities completing funding proposals. The expectation is that RMS 2.0 will allow for improved data re-use as it becomes fully operational. We will continue to focus on this going forward.
Stakeholder engagement and advocacy
The ARC also continued to engage with its stakeholders about matters relating to delivery of its responsibilities (see page 110 for further details). We participated in launches of ARC-funded research projects or facilities, important mechanisms for engaging the community with the vast potential of ARC-funded research.
The ARC's total annual appropriated resources for 2014–15 were $904.7 million, comprising $881.0 million for the administered appropriation and $23.7 million for the departmental appropriation. The ARC's administered budget in 2014–15 was increased through the announcement of ongoing funding for the Future Fellowships scheme. The ARC's departmental budget was affected by a one-off 0.25 per cent efficiency dividend on operating costs and implementation of whole-of-Government savings for public service efficiencies.
Further information is provided in Chapter 11.
An organisation like the ARC cannot operate without skilled, committed and enthusiastic staff and I have a responsibility to ensure that they are supported in their endeavours. There were many highlights in this sphere for the ARC in 2014–15, including the release of a Workplace Diversity and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). At the launch of our RAP we were very privileged to have Ngunnawal elder, Aunty Agnes Shea, to deliver a welcome to country and a guest artist in attendance. The ARC also finalised access to e-Learning, an addition to our ongoing training and development programme.
The year ahead
It is a useful coincidence that at the same time as we are looking back over the previous year through our annual reporting process, we are also looking forward to 2015–16 and beyond through our strategic planning process.
In the ARC Corporate Plan 2015–16 to 2018–19 we identified priorities for the coming year (see page 7), which we're expecting will be delivered against a backdrop of continued focus on how Australia's research system can be improved. At the time of writing this, there are a range of review activities underway which together will help support the growth of Australia's research capacity. The review activities extend across the breadth of research activities from industry to infrastructure, research training to longer term science strategies. The ARC welcomes these and will continue to enthusiastically engage with them.
In conclusion I want to thank the staff for their continued hard work in delivering the ARC's outcome—the NCGP, ERA and policy advice. We are very privileged to do what we do and I am looking forward to continuing our endeavours in 2015–16.
Professor Aidan Byrne Chief Executive Officer
Key priorities for 2015–16
The ARC will:
Manage research funding schemes
- conduct a selection round for ARC Centres of Excellence for funding commencing in 2017. ARC Centres of Excellence aim to build research capability in priority areas and have a strong record of international engagement and research training
Measure research excellence
- complete and release the outcomes of the ERA 2015 evaluation process. The outcomes will be released in a report titled State of Australian University Research Volume 1— ERA National Report
- develop and implement the alignment of the ERA and Higher Education Research Data Collection
- work with the National Health and Medical Research Council and Universities Australia to revise the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research
- implement a Women in Research Statement and Action Plan and continue to highlight the mechanisms within its schemes that encourage the participation of women researchers
- evaluate the Linkage Projects scheme, to understand the factors that influence the participation of partner organisations (including industry, not-for-profit and government sectors) in research projects
Be a highly performing organisation
- continue to improve the transparency of the NCGP assessment processes through focused stakeholder forums
- in consultation with stakeholders, develop an external communication strategy to improve the promotion of research outcomes and provide clearer information on grant success and benefits across the breadth of research supported by the ARC
- develop a communication plan to further encourage industry linkages
- launch an enhanced ARC website which promotes outcomes of ARC-funded research and is user friendly
- implement a new performance measurement framework, improving its capacity to identify, collect, analyse and report on quality non-financial performance measures
- continue to promote a high performance culture and improve its Workplace Diversity Programme (including the Reconciliation Action Plan) to recognise and promote the value that people's differences can make to creating ARC policies and programmes and building relationships both internally and externally
- identify opportunities to streamline its programme delivery processes to maximise the efficiency of its operations and reduce the administrative burden on ARC stakeholders
- effectively and efficiently manage the transition between new and legacy finance ICT systems.