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HIGHLIGHTS OF 2020–21

GRANT OPPORTUNITIES

Australian Society, History and Culture scheme

The first grants awarded through the Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture scheme were announced in October 2020, providing $11.8 million for new research into Australia’s society, history, culture, literature, art, music, politics and geography. Grants of between $20,000 to $100,000 per year for up to 3 years have been provided to successful applicants.

The scheme has funded 49 research projects that will look at the way in which Australians live today as well as how the past has contributed to Australian society and culture. One focus is how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture is understood and has impacted modern Australian society. The Australian Government anticipates that this new initiative will bring a greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, heritage, and the success of multiculturalism.

Research Grants Services (RGS)

The ARC commenced providing research grants administration services to other Australian Government entities for grant programs focused on the research sector. Consistent with the whole of Australian Government grants administration initiatives, this service positions the ARC as a leader in the delivery of research grant programs in Australia and provides increased efficiency and assurance for users of the service, and for grant recipients.

RGS provides a standardised research grants process through the ARC’s Research Management System (RMS) which offers a flexible, robust, stable and innovative platform for administering research grants. The ARC has commenced grants services for 3 client agencies. Of these clients, 2 are managed end-to-end services for the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) and the Department of Defence (Defence) who are funding the NISDRG program. The third provides the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) with access and support to use RMS for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) program.

The ARC will support the Grant Opportunities and the subsequent management of approved grants for the program.

POLICY ENVIRONMENT

Discovery Projects scheme evaluation

In 2020–21, the ARC completed an evaluation of the Discovery Projects scheme, which incorporated stakeholder feedback from 3,069 researchers, 24 university research offices and 3 peak bodies. The evaluation found that Discovery Projects was effectively achieving its objectives and intended outcomes and playing a unique and important role within the broader research funding landscape. It identified a number of opportunities to support continuous improvement in the ARC’s administration of the scheme. In response, the ARC is considering strategies to further strengthen its communication with stakeholders, streamline grant application and administration processes, improve facilitation of national and international collaboration, and strengthen consistency in data collection.

The Discovery Projects evaluation report, and the accompanying response, are available on the the ARC's website, www.arc.gov.au > Home > Policies & Strategies > Strategy > Evaluation > ARC response to the Evaluation of the Discovery Projects scheme.

Streamlining NCGP grants administration

The streamlining of ARC grant applications and management processes is a continuous business improvement activity for the ARC to maintain an efficient system that, as far as possible, minimises the administrative burden for researchers, research offices and ARC staff. These enhancements are in line with the reforms pursued through the Streamlined Government Grants Administration (SGGA) Program.

In 2020–21, streamlining outcomes included improvements to Grant Guidelines, Grant Agreements and application forms. The ARC continued to collaborate with other agencies to ensure that whole of Government policies and practices are reflected in ARC Grant Guidelines and Grant Agreements. Updates to application forms reduced duplication, improved consistency across schemes (where appropriate) and removed some questions that were no longer required. The ARC also implemented a number of enhancements to the functionality of RMS taking into account feedback received from the research sector.

Data visualisation

In 2020–21 the ARC developed interactive data displays and other data products to improve accessibility for internal and external users. Data trends, available through data visualisations on the ARC's website, www.arc.gov.au can be explored from 2002 onwards and filtered by funding commencement year, scheme, research discipline and more. The ARC is committed to improving the way our data can be viewed and used, while upholding high standards of privacy and security.

Gender equality

Advancing gender equality in the research workforce also remains a priority for the ARC. The ARC recognises this is a particularly difficult time for the sector, with broad-reaching impacts and demands on institutions and individuals. In 2020–21, the ARC reviewed its Gender Equality Statement, which sets out the ARC’s commitment to supporting gender equality in the Australian research sector. The Statement includes an overview of mechanisms available under 11 the NCGP to support women’s participation in ARC schemes; engagement in the research sector by the ARC, and by ARC supported researchers, to support gender equality; and a range of gender data insights, analysis and reporting, including participation and success rates under the NCGP and across the sector.

In 2020–21, the ARC College of Experts included an increased gender parity, with membership increasing from 28.7% women in 2016 to 47.8% in 2021. These College members, who are leaders in their respective research disciplines, are responsible for moderating the ARC’s peer review processes, and their recommendations are critical to the outcomes of our competitive grant opportunities.

The ARC will continue to work with stakeholders to encourage progress in supporting women in the research sector.

Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC) 2020

On 30 June 2020, the revised ANZSRC was released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Stats NZ. It provides the research community with a classification system that is contemporary and reflects the changes in research practices over the past decade.

In 2020–21, the ARC has commenced implementing the revised classification into NCGP activities, using a staged approach:

  • the new codes were made available in RMS researcher profiles from late 2020 to allow the researchers and research office time to update their profile from 2008 to 2020 codes
  • nomination forms for the 2022 College of Experts (which opened in May 2021) included the new codes
  • the first NCGP application round to be adapted to the 2020 codes will be the 2022 Industrial Transformation Research Program (ITRP), which opened in August 2021.

Over the coming years, the new ANZSRC classifications will assist the ARC with administering a range of programs, including NCGP, ERA and EI. The revised classification will be used in the next ERA (2023) and EI (2024) rounds.

NCGP mechanisms to support the Australian research sector during the COVID-19 pandemic

An important role of the ARC is ensuring the delivery of funding outcomes in a timely manner. The ARC has closely monitored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to progress NCGP grant applications and peer review processes, and to support researchers in the recovery period and beyond.

New categories added to ARC Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) Statement

The ARC acknowledges that the impacts of COVID-19 have been diverse and dependent on a variety of factors including physical location, research requirements and personal circumstances. The ARC Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) Statement includes examples of the type of interruption that can be included in applications, noting these are examples only and any interruption that has affected career opportunity can be included under ROPE. Two new categories of interruption: disaster management and recovery and limited or no access to facilities and resources – such as through workplace interruptions have been included to specifically capture interruptions arising from COVID-19. The ROPE criterion will enable all researchers, whose research has been affected, to identify interruptions relevant to their own experiences, that will be considered by assessors.

Early and mid-career researcher eligibility extensions

To assist with the impacts on early and mid-career researchers who have specific eligibility timeframes to apply for the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) and Future Fellowships schemes, a one-year automatic eligibility extension for all researchers in their final year of eligibility was introduced for both schemes in 2020. Researchers in their final year of eligibility for DECRA were advised that they could choose to apply in 2020 (for DECRA 2022) within the existing eligibility timeframes or in 2021 (for DECRA 2023) utilising the automatic one-year extension. Similarly, researchers in their final year of eligibility for Future Fellowships were advised that they could choose to apply in 2020 (for the Future Fellows scheme 2021) or utilise the automatic, one-year extension to apply in 2021 (for the Future Fellows scheme 2022).

Supporting peer review and selection meetings

The ARC adopted changes to its SAC meetings to ensure that the process for peer review, which is critical to identifying excellence in research applications, could continue by adjusting to a virtual format via videoconference. All selection meetings from June 2020 through to July 2021 were successfully conducted via videoconference.

Supporting researchers on active projects

To assist researchers with active projects already in receipt of ARC funding, who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ARC published post award guidance, www.arc.gov.au > Home > ARC Post Award Guidance including Major Investments: Responding to the impact of COVID-19 material. This material was in line with Grant Agreement requirements and provided a balance between accountability for expenditure of public money and easing the burden on researchers and research offices.

The post award guidance covered streamlined mechanisms to notify some variations through the ARC’s End of Year Report process, extensions to notification and reporting deadlines, other variations which would be considered due to the impact of COVID-19, and Frequently Asked Questions.

The ARC is continuing to monitor the impact of COVID-19, addressing issues as they transpire, developing contingencies and providing additional advice to the sector about post award arrangements, including for grants arising out of new selection rounds.

NATIONAL RESEARCH ASSESSMENT

ERA EI Review

In 2021, the ARC completed its review of ERA and EI. This review ensures the assessments respond to the future needs of the university sector, are streamlined and continue to reflect world’s best practice. It will also shape the next assessment rounds in 2023 (ERA) and 2024 (EI). The ARC accepted all recommendations from the review and on 16 June 2021 published the ERA EI Review Final Report and the ERA and EI Action Plan.

PEOPLE

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the agility and flexibility of the ARC and its people. All employees worked from home for an extended period, and due to a robust ICT infrastructure, strong communication and clear guidelines and policies, this proved seamless. As a result of this, more staff have taken up the opportunity to incorporate working from home as part of their flexible working arrangements.

The ARC currently has 143 staff, 17% of whom are working part time, 62% regularly working from home, 5% utilising compressed hours, and 4% who have been on non-maternity leave without pay.

In the 2020 Australian Public Service (APS) census, 92% of staff reported that they believed they had the appropriate skills, capabilities and knowledge to perform well.

ARC MEDIA ANNOUNCEMENTS

July 2020

Minister Tehan announced funding of:

  • $25 million for 5 new ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hubs
  • $44.2 million for 14 ARC Australian Laureate Fellowships for 2020, including the ARC Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship and Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship
  • $24 million for 5 new ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centres
  • $90.5 million to support 100 ARC Future Fellowships for 2020.

October 2020

Minister Tehan announced a change to ARC research funding to direct a greater portion of funds to projects funded through the schemes of the ARC Linkage Program. Minister Tehan announced funding of $11.8 million to support 49 new projects under the 2020 Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture.

The ARC congratulated Australian researchers awarded the 2020 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, whose research had been supported by the funding schemes of the ARC. Recipients included the research team at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery who took out the overall Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for their role in the important discovery of gravitational waves in 2015.

November 2020

Minister Tehan announced $445,688 to support a DECRA project led by a University of Melbourne researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics.

Minister Tehan announced funding of:

  • $7.1 million for 9 new research projects through the Discovery Indigenous scheme
  • $84 million for 200 projects under the DECRA scheme
  • $255 million for 591 projects under the Discovery Projects scheme
  • $26.4 million for 60 projects under the Linkage Projects scheme.

December 2020

The ARC welcomed the approval by the Australian Government of ARC grants funding including:

  • $38.8 million for 47 Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) projects
  • $419,000 to support one project under the Linkage Projects scheme
  • $4.8 million for 12 projects under the Discovery Projects scheme.

March 2021

Minister Alan Tudge announced funding of $29.5 million to support 65 projects under the Linkage Projects scheme.

May 2021

The ARC welcomed the launch of the ARC Training Centre in Data Analytics for Resources and Environments (DARE) which will receive $3.9 million in funding over the next 5 years.

June 2021

The ARC announced the release of the ERA EI Review Final Report.