Chapter 2 the Australian Research Council
Role and functions
The ARC is a non-corporate Commonwealth entity established under the Australian Research Council Act 2001 (ARC Act). The Australian Government's expected Outcome for the ARC (as identified in the Portfolio Budget Statements) is 'growth of knowledge and innovation through managing research funding schemes, measuring research excellence and providing advice'.
The ARC is responsible for:
- funding excellent research and research training
- evaluating the quality of research
- providing policy advice on research matters.
Funding excellent research and research training
The ARC supports excellent research and research training, across all disciplines, through the National Competitive Grants Programme (NCGP). The NCGP, which has two streams—Discovery and Linkage, provides funding for basic and applied research, research training, research collaboration and infrastructure. The excellence of research proposals is determined by competitive peer review processes involving national and international assessors. Further information about the Discovery and Linkage programmes is provided in Part 5, Appendices 2 and 3 respectively.
Evaluating the quality of research
The ARC evaluates the quality of research in Australia through Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). ERA is an evaluation framework which identifies research excellence in eligible Australian higher education institutions by comparing Australia's research effort against international benchmarks. ERA assesses research quality using a combination of indicators and expert review by experienced, internationally recognised experts.
Providing policy advice on research matters
The ARC provides policy advice on research matters to the Australian Government, including how research funding schemes can be targeted to produce maximum benefits for the Australian research community and to society and the economy more broadly; and how ERA results can be used to inform policy and programmes. In providing advice, the ARC emphasises the role of university research in the broader research and interconnected spheres of social, health, economic, commercial and environmental benefits that will be delivered to the wider community.
In delivering its programmes, the ARC engages with a diverse group of key stakeholders with differing expectations and interests.
- The ARC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is supported in his responsibilities by a number of committees involving external members including the ARC Advisory Council, the ARC College of Experts, the ARC Audit Committee and the ERA Research Evaluation Committees (as required).
- The ARC is located within the Education and Training portfolio of the Australian Government and is responsible to the Minister for Education and Training. The ARC provides an annual report on its performance to the Australian Parliament.
- The Australian Government defines the policy framework within which the ARC works in pursuing its programme and policy responsibilities. The ARC works closely with the Department of Education and Training, which is responsible for research policy, as well as other departments and agencies such as the Department of Industry and Science, which is responsible for industry and science policy, and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
- Through the NCGP, the ARC awards funding to eligible organisations which are mainly Australian universities. Researchers located within these organisations are eligible to be Chief Investigators on ARC grants.
- The Linkage programme of the NCGP encourages university researchers to partner with researchers from other organisations in the conduct of end-user focused research. Partner organisations include industry, government (international, Australian, state and local), not-for-profit organisations and international organisations.
- Funding under all schemes is awarded on the basis of a competitive peer review process conducted by Australian and international assessors.
- Through ERA, the ARC evaluates the quality of research activity undertaken at all eligible higher education institutions. In developing and implementing ERA, the ARC liaises closely with these institutions.
- The ARC engages with both Australian and international peak bodies (e.g. Learned Academies, university peak bodies) as well as international research agencies, including the peak body for this group, the Global Research Council.
- The ARC also plays a role in advocating the benefits of research to the media and the Australian community at large.
The structure of the ARC at 30 June 2015 is illustrated in Figure 2.1.
Figure 2.1: Structure of the Australian Research Council (at 30 June 2015)
Figure 2.1 Structure of the Australian Research Council (at 30 June 2015)
The diagram depicts the hierarchy of the ARC organisational structure starting with a centred rectangle at the top containing the text: Chief Executive Officer, Professor Aidan Byrne. A central vertical line extends from the base of the box and has a branch to a rectangle at the left containing the text: Executive General Manager, Ms Leanne Harvey, followed by a branch to a rectangle on the right containing the text: Executive Directors; Dr Fiona Cameron; Professor Marian Simms; Professor Brian Yates; and vacant. The line then branches out to five rectangles containing the titles and responsible officers of each ARC branch and the ARC sections they are responsible for, that is (from left to right):
- Corporate Services Branch, Ms Leanne Harvey, Executive General Manager, responsible for: Finance; Legal Services; People and Services; and Stakeholder Relations and Parliamentary sections.
- ICT Services Branch, Ms Trish Leahey, Chief Information Officer, responsible for: Applications; and Operations sections.
- Programmes Branch, Dr Laura Dan, Chief Program Officer, responsible for: Programme Operations (Discovery); Programme Operations (Linkage); and Programme Partnerships sections.
- Research Excellence Branch, Ms Leanne Harvey, Executive General Manager, responsible for: Programme Evaluation; Research Analysis; and Research Evaluation sections.
- Strategy Branch, Dr Laura Dan, Acting Branch Manager, responsible for the Policy and Governance section.
- There is also a box labelled Policy and Integrity, with a line linking the section directly to the Chief Executive Officer.
The ARC's executive staff at 30 June 2015 are pictured below.
Professor Aidan Byrne, Chief Executive Officer
Professor Byrne has statutory responsibilities for managing and leading the agency in accordance with the requirements of relevant legislation. Under the ARC Act, the CEO must: make recommendations to the Minister in relation to which proposals should be approved for funding; administer the financial assistance for research provided through the NCGP; provide advice to the Minister on research matters; and any other functions conferred on the CEO by the ARC Act or any other Act.
Ms Leanne Harvey, Executive General Manager
Ms Harvey is responsible for the Research Excellence Branch and the Corporate Services Branch. The Research Excellence Branch, which comprises three sections, administers the Excellence in Research for Australia programme and undertakes evaluations of NCGP funding schemes. The Corporate Services Branch has four sections with responsibility for financial management; legal services; people and services (including property and facilities management); and corporate communications and parliamentary and ministerial liaison.
Dr Fiona Cameron, Executive Director, Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Dr Cameron has responsibility for discipline activities in the biological sciences and biotechnology. She also has oversight of the ARC Centres of Excellence scheme, the Industrial Transformation Research Programme and the Linkage Projects scheme.
Professor Marian Simms, Executive Director, Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences
Professor Simms has responsibility for discipline activities in the social, behavioural and economic sciences. She also has oversight of the Discovery Indigenous and Discovery Projects schemes.
Professor Brian Yates, Executive Director, Engineering, Mathematics and Information Sciences
Professor Yates has responsibility for discipline activities in the engineering, mathematics and information sciences. He also has oversight of the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, Future Fellowships and Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities schemes.
Dr Laura Dan, Branch Manager, Strategy Branch and Chief Programme Officer
As Branch Manager, Dr Dan has responsibility for development of policy advice in relation to the NCGP; coordination of the ARC's planning and reporting responsibilities; NCGP data analysis; the ARC Advisory Council, Australian Research Integrity Committee and ARC Audit Committee; and coordination of internal audit and risk management activities. As Chief Programme Officer Dr Dan has oversight of the Programmes Branch which administers the funding schemes of the NCGP, including activities at all stages of the grants process.
The ARC is required to provide a report against:
- the Outcome and Programmes structure outlined in the Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS)
- the performance indicators set out in the corporate plan (previously strategic plan).
These requirements are set out in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the Australian Research Council Act 2001.
ARC Outcome and Programmes structure
The ARC's 2014–15 Outcome and Programmes structure comprised one Outcome and three Programmes: Discovery, Linkage and ERA (see Figure 2.2). Each Programme comprises Objectives, Deliverables and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
ARC strategic plan
The ARC Strategic Plan 2014–15 to 2016–17 identified three Programmes and four Enabling Functions. To facilitate consistent reporting, the three Programmes and their performance indicators are aligned with the Programmes and KPIs in the PBS. The strategic plan identified additional KPIs for each of the Enabling Functions.
Figure 2.2: ARC Outcome and Programmes, 2014–15
Figure 2.2 Outcome and Programmes, 2014–15
The diagram depicts the ARC's 2014–15 outcome and programmes structure. The top row is a single rectangle containing the text: Outcome and Programme structure, Portfolio Budget Statements. The second row contains the text: Outcome 1: Growth of knowledge and innovation through managing research funding schemes, measuring research excellence and providing advice. The third row is split into three rectangles, containing the headings (from left to right): Program 1.1 Discovery; Program 1.2 Linkage; and Program 1.3 ERA. Under each of the three headings the following subheadings are listed: Objectives; Deliverables; KPIs; Administered expenses; and Departmental expenses.
Performance information in this annual report
In accordance with the ARC's reporting requirements, the ARC reports in this annual report against the performance framework set out in the ARC's 2014–15 PBS and the ARC Strategic Plan for 2014–15 to 2016–17.
The report includes:
- the ARC Outcome (Part 2, Chapter 3)
- the deliverables, objectives and KPIs of Programme 1.1 Discovery (Part 2, Chapter 4)
- the deliverables, objectives and KPIs of Programme 1.2 Linkage (Part 2, Chapter 5)
- the deliverables, objectives and KPIs of Programme 1.3 Excellence in Research for Australia (Part 2, Chapter 6)
- a summary of the ARC's performance against the framework in the ARC strategic plan (which includes the Programme KPIs as well as additional KPIs identified for the ARC's Enabling Functions) (Part 5, Appendix 1).