ACDS submission to the ARC review calls for the importance and interrelationships across the entire research value chain to be supported

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The ACDS made the following submission to the 2022 review of the Australian Research Council Act.

The ARC Act should require the ARC to consider the importance and interrelationships across the entire research value chain, from scientific discovery and knowledge generation, through to translation, application and impact, and everything in between. 

The primary purpose of the ARC however should be to support fundamental research and its role within that value chain. It should support the advancement of knowledge without regard to its purpose, but it should also include programs that strongly support and encourage the interplay of that knowledge with other parts of the value chain.

Currently, programs such as the Linkage Program and Industrial Transformation Research Program play this latter role. The primary goal of these programs should be to foster interplay between academic researchers and other participants in the research value chain; to encourage an exchange of ideas, mutual understanding of goals and culture, and greater flexibility to transition between university and non-university roles.

In general, such programs should not be for commercialisation or other applications for their own sake. These activities are generally the focus of other players in the research value chain and should be evaluated accordingly. The primary role of these ARC programs should be to encourage academic participation in translational research and commercialisation in order to promote and sustain a culture of productive connection into the value chain.

It is important not to concede the bigger picture of the research value chain by focusing narrowly on a split between fundamental and translational research. Rather than casting these aspects into opposition within a zero-sum game, they should be seen in a wider context of the synergies between them. It should be clear that the purpose of the ARC is to support fundamental research, both in its discovery and its translation.

Equity and Diversity

The ACDS supports the inclusion of a commitment to equity and diversity in the ARC act.

In terms of process, it sees merit in the quota systems being explored by the NHMRC. Such a quota system should align with progress towards discipline-specific diversity targets and ‘stretch targets’, and act as an enabler to achieve these. Diversity should be considered in the broadest sense, including, but not limited to, gender. 

Governance

The ACDS supports the reinstatement of a Governing Board as articulated in the ARC Consultation paper, including the proposed terms of reference. Board members need to be recognised for a deep understanding of and commitment to fundamental research and its role in the research value chain. The Board needs to be accountable for ensuring that the ARC addresses the broader purposes of the agency.

The ACDS accepts that it is the Minister’s responsibility to ensure that the Board and CEO are acting in accordance with the ARC Act, delivering on the broad outcomes agreed upon, and acting in the national interest generally. Ministerial interventions should be with the Board and CEO. The ACDS does not agree that the Minister should have the power to reject individual grants which have been exhaustively reviewed by specialists in relevant discipline areas.

Grant Approval

The ACDS is aware of the reference to the Haldane Principle (that funding priorities should be determined by experts and not by politicians) in the submission to this Review by Science and Technology Australia.

The ACDS strongly supports the inclusion of the Haldane Principle in the ARC act as a means of enshrining appropriately the role of peer review.

National Interest Test

It is essential that federal funding is supporting activities that will ultimately benefit Australians, however it is critical that this is considered in the broadest sense. This may include immediate or medium-term impacts on the development of products or technologies, or important changes to policies or procedures, but must also include long-term benefits arising from new knowledge, that may not yet be able to be articulated. The reputational benefits of internationally recognized research excellence and impact must also be valued when considering the national benefit of research.

In terms of who considers any such statements, the ACDS is of the firm view that this should also align with the Haldane Principle, this is that this be limited to per reviewers and the College of Experts, and not influenced by political points of view which may not always be in the long term interests of research outcomes.

ERA and EI

The ACDS believes that the ERA no longer serves a useful purpose. It diverts resources, both in money and human effort, from more important research initiatives. We understand that this view is widely shared.

The ACDS is supportive of quality assurance in respect of Australia’s research effort and the deployment of limited funds to support that effort. How this is best done is a matter to be explored separately.

The ACDS is also supportive of some form of Engagement and Impact exercise, in line with assuring the quality of the engagement of fundamental research in the wider research value chain.

December 14, 2022