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Change grants system to retain researchers, government urged


Australian medical institutes say early difficulty in winning funding is causing an “exodus” of talent

An “exodus” of talent from Australian medical research can only be avoided by changes to the way grants are issued, the country’s body for medical research institutes has said.

In its pre-budget submission to the federal government, the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes says that not enough National Health and Medical Research Council grants are going to early and mid-career researchers.

The AAMRI asks for 241 more NHMRC Ideas Grants to be funded in the federal budget on 9 May, earmarked for researchers who completed their PhD within the past 10 years.

The association says that researchers are leaving the field when they can’t find funding. “Every time one of these highly skilled medical researchers is unable to secure funding to continue their research, about 20 years of past training expertise is lost.”

The submission’s other main request is for backup funding to cover work supported by the Medical Research Future Fund. MRFF grants do not come with the kind of infrastructure support that other medical research grants do, the association says.

“The ability to meet the systemic costs of research is critical to a medical research institute’s capacity to undertake high-quality research and make groundbreaking discoveries that can deliver better health outcomes for the community,” the submission says.

Indirect costs

Earlier in February, the AAMRI released its annual snapshot of the sector, in which it “found a A$381 million gap between the costs of carrying out vital medical research and the funding independent Australian medical research institutes received”.

It found that for every dollar spent on research, another 63 cents was spent on “indirect costs”. Grants that paid only for direct research costs failed to take into account factors such as facilities, imaging equipment and professional support. “These are all part of the pipeline that is needed to turn a research idea into a treatment or diagnostic tool for the Australian public,” the association said.

AAMRI president Kathryn North said a lot of institutes were starting to “really struggle” with increasing indirect costs.

The report also said that despite small gains in the number of women in senior research positions, these roles were still “dominated by men”.