I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce the Australian Research Council (ARC) Annual Report for 2016–17.
The annual report is an important part of the planning and reporting framework at the ARC, providing a record of the activities undertaken during the year. The ARC is a strongly performing organisation and, as a relative newcomer to the ARC, I am looking forward to engaging with our stakeholders about future directions.
Significant issues and developments
During 2016–17 the Australian Government continued to build on its framework for innovation, science and research. Agencies delivered on the initiatives identified in the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA); and Innovation and Science Australia finalised a Performance Review of the Australian Innovation, Science and Research System and released an issues paper to prompt discussion on where Australia wants innovation, science and research to be by 2030.
The ARC has responsibility for two key initiatives announced as part of NISA, a new Engagement and Impact (EI) assessment, and implementation of a continuous application process under the ARC Linkage Projects scheme.
The EI assessment aims to encourage universities to focus on improving their engagement and the translation of research into wider economic, social, cultural and other benefits. At the time of writing this, a pilot EI assessment exercise has been completed. It was a challenging time for the ARC, balancing deadlines with the requirement for a robust methodology accepted by stakeholders. There will be further feedback opportunities for universities over the coming months as a review of the pilot takes place. The pilot and the review will inform the development of the EI assessment in 2018.
Implementation of the continuous application process under the Linkage Projects scheme is now one year old, with the first proposals accepted by the ARC on a continuous basis from 1 July 2016. This initiative has also had its challenges, requiring a significantly different approach by the ARC, our assessors, universities and partner organisations. We have achieved our goal of announcing all outcomes within six months of a proposal being submitted to the ARC, but it is still too early to determine how well the initiative is performing in other respects. We will be monitoring progress very closely as time goes on.
Performance and financial results
In 2016–17, there were a number of performance highlights in relation to the ARC’s three key activities (funding high-quality research; assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research; and providing policy advice on research matters) and its organisational capability.
Funding the highest quality research
In 2016–17, with the help of its assessors, the ARC processed 6412 proposals for funding under the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP). A total of 1346 proposals were awarded funding.
The number of research projects we fund is the visible result of our activities. The less visible, but more important result is the changes in behaviour facilitated by ARC support. In the short term, these research projects help build Australia’s research capacity; encourage students to take up a research career; support the employment of a large number of professional staff in universities; facilitate access to national and international research infrastructure; and support Australian researchers to conduct the highest quality research. In the longer term, ARC-funded research projects produce new knowledge about the world we live in and deliver ongoing environmental, health, cultural, social and economic benefits for Australia.
During the year, some of the research funded by the ARC received negative media attention based on the summaries of research released at the time of announcement. However, the ARC has a strong commitment to funding research across all disciplines, with all fields of knowledge playing a role in contributing to Australia’s future. Our rigorous peer review principles and processes ensure that funding is spent on the highest quality research—whatever the discipline—that will advance knowledge and benefit the community.
Assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research
It is important to emphasise that the ARC remains committed to supporting both the highest-quality fundamental and applied research. The EI assessment, outlined above, will complement the ERA evaluation, which identifies and promotes excellence in research.
During 2016–17 the ARC continued its preparation for the upcoming 2018 ERA round, reviewing the guidance information for the 2018 submission process and seeking input from universities for updates to the ERA 2018 Journal List. The Journal List is integral to the ERA process. The ARC received a large number of submissions to the journal list consultation, reflecting the high levels of sector engagement when it comes to ERA and its assessment of the quality of research in Australia. The ARC will finalise and release the Journal List and draft submission guidelines in the first half of 2017–18.
Providing advice on research matters
During the year the ARC continued to participate in policy forums and prepare policy documents. We:
- reviewed and re-released the ARC Research Workforce Statement and ARC Statement of Support and Expectations for Gender Equality (and released the ARC Gender Equality Action Plan 2017)
- drafted an ARC Intellectual Property Management Policy, addressing the recommendations of the Watt Review
- released a revised ARC Research Integrity and Research Misconduct Policy, further strengthening the ARC’s requirements in relation to best practice research
- released a revised ARC Open Access Policy
- released an ARC Statement of Support for Interdisciplinary Research.
Building and sustaining a strong organisational capability
The ARC administered a budget of $777.9 million for 2016–17, comprising $751.3 million for the administered appropriation and $26.6 million for the departmental appropriation. Further information on the financial performance of the agency is provided in Section 3.2.
In 2016–17, the ARC expanded its program of direct engagement with grant recipients, holding workshops for research centre staff, new Australian Laureate Fellows, and recipients of Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowships. The workshops provided an opportunity for ARC staff to share post-award expectations as well as for researchers to network.
The ARC also looked for ways to better promote the outcomes of ARC-funded research. In June 2017, the ARC released a new publication Making a difference—Outcomes of ARC supported research to promote the fantastic research outcomes and excellent researchers supported by the ARC. The publication highlights the outcomes of both fundamental and applied research, across many disciplines and institutions, to demonstrate that ARC-funded research is making a real difference to Australia and the world.
Outlook for 2017–18
The ARC has a well-established schedule of responsibilities as indicated by the broad priorities for the coming year provided in the 2017–18 ARC Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS), listed below, as well as the more detailed strategies and actions identified in our corporate plan.
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Ms Leanne Harvey who was Acting CEO of the ARC in the period between the departure of the previous CEO, Professor Aidan Byrne, and my commencement at the ARC. This was a significant portion of the period under review in this annual report.
The ARC’s performance during the year was also made possible by the support of our stakeholders and staff and I thank everyone for their contribution. I am looking forward to the year ahead and achieving our 2017–18 goals.