The NHMRC has released the consultation report arising from their structural review of its $800 million grant program.
The existing funding model – which in the latest round delivered success rates of under 15% – has been criticised for disadvantaging early career, less experienced, female researchers and more innovative research proposals in favour of older researchers with large labs staffed by post-docs who can provide extensive preliminary data to back their application.
The review team acknowledged that:
Concerns have been raised that early and mid-career researchers are being discouraged from pursuing a career in health and medical research and that there is conservatism in the development and assessment of research proposals.
More specifically, that
there is … widespread concern that the high volume of applications for NHMRC funding is having a range of negative effects on Australian health and medical research, such as the following:
- researchers are spending a substantial period each year preparing grant applications that will not be funded, despite many being of sufficient quality to be funded;
- the load on peer reviewers (most of whom are themselves researchers) has become excessive for the number of grants funded;
- early and mid-career researchers, especially women, may feel discouraged from pursuing a research career;
- applicants are more likely to propose, and peer reviewers are more likely to favour, “safe” research to the detriment of innovation; and
- the low likelihood of funding is driving further increases in application numbers as researchers seek to improve their chances of obtaining a grant, exacerbating the situation
The paper sets out three possible alternative funding models.
Team – Long-term (5 year) grants to support a team of excellent researchers to pursue programs of research, aiming to reduce their need to apply for more, smaller grants. These grants could be linked with a fellowship.
Investigator – Long-term (5 year) single grants to support excellent individual researchers and their groups, aiming to provide flexibility in their research program and reduce the need to apply for multiple grants. These grants could be linked with a fellowship.
Research Support – support for projects/ideas (1-5 years) to teams of researchers, with separate streams to support commercialisation and implementation research.
Where to from here?
Professionals Australia welcomes the report and discussion of how things can be done differently, and is seeking the views of researchers themselves on the alternative grant program models.
In particular, we’re interested in which of the proposed models you think would:
- provide greater/fairer research opportunities for those wanting to pursue research careers;
- address the excessive time currently spent on grant applications and low success rates;
- best ensure researchers with promising initial results were provided with further funding;
- address the practical issues of job and income security for researchers;
- address some of the funding practices that currently create disadvantage for female researchers;
- help maintain a long-term sustainable workforce;
- most effectively ensure the sustainability and agility of the sector while not breaking the bank; and ultimately
- ensure the most strategic and efficient translation of research into health outcomes for the community.
Email email@example.com with your comments by 31 July, 2016.