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Australian Research Council promises to fix timelines


Chief executive says universities can expect certainty on grant dates—or an explanation

The Australian Research Council has promised to publish a fixed timetable for grant applications and decisions.

ARC chief executive Judi Zielke told Research Professional News that she expected the timetable to be published on the council’s website by the end of September. The calendar will nominate specific fortnights in which decisions will be made public.

A draft calendar has already been sent to research offices. Zielke said that the council would work to meet the new targets—and “if we are not going to achieve those dates, we will come out and tell people”.

The next announcement listed on the draft calendar is the outcome of the latest round of Future Fellowships, due this week, followed by the winners of the latest Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards in the first half of October.

Zielke said she was focused on improving the council’s processes and how they affected researchers. She said that when she took over in February, there was “an issue in relation to process that we were seen as ‘old school’ and that we weren’t necessarily [seen as] helping researchers or reducing their burden”.

Era process

She also addressed concerns about the “halt” in the Excellence in Research for Australia process, saying that work already done on the research assessment exercise would not be wasted. The council had already been working with universities and research offices on a “data-driven approach”, she said, and the halt was an opportunity to finalise that without the actual rankings process running in parallel.

She said there had been a “burden” of administrative work on universities that were “still recovering from Covid…trying to drive educational outcomes and student outcomes and to be able to fund other activities. It’s my understanding that they’re feeling quite overwhelmed. Therefore, taking that burden off the next six months of work is, I think, the ultimate intent [of the halt].”

Zielke suggested that third-party providers of information on research could be involved in any new rankings system. “That’s something that we could draw on, rather than have universities do it every three years…and it’s an up-to-date source of information,” she said.

Information kept by the Department of Education on numbers of researchers and fields of research could also feed into the rankings, she said.

“I’m establishing a working group to work on the transition plan, and as part of that we’ll be looking at how to utilise the data that has been put together and ensure we’re not losing that information, but potentially use some external sources to help with the manual work that would have been done by universities.”

Legislative review

On the external review of the ARC Act that is currently underway, Zielke said it was “a great opportunity to have a conversation” about the ARC’s functions “and finalise where that conversation gets to, versus this ongoing conversation without necessarily having an end in sight or significant change occurring as a result of it”.

In response to questions, the secretariat of the review did not provide further details on the consultation process or whether the three-member review panel had yet met, only saying that details would be available “soon”.

This article was updated on 13 September to include reference to the Future Fellowships announcement.