Australian government approves delayed research grants

But silence on flagship Discovery scheme leaves an estimated 3,000 applicants facing Christmas limbo

December 22, 2021
rubber stamp approved endorse waved through
Source: iStock

Almost 100 Australian research teams have had projects funded, and nearly 200 more have been put out of their misery, after results were finally released from two delayed Australian Research Council (ARC) funding rounds.

But thousands more researchers remain in limbo, with outcomes from the 2022 round of the Discovery Projects scheme – the ARC’s main support programme for basic research, and one of its two biggest funding streams – still unknown.

The government has approved 98 applicants to receive some A$57 million (£31 million) in grants under the Linkage Projects scheme, which funds university researchers to collaborate with peers outside academia, and the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities programme, which finances shared research equipment and facilities.

Another 196 applicants failed to secure funding from the two streams, whose outcomes had been expected in October.

The two-month delay – which researchers blame on national security checks and cumbersome political processes, exacerbated by an administrative logjam caused by the now rescinded preprints ban – have robbed the successful applicants of crucial planning time, with many universities and industry partners now closed for the summer break.

Meanwhile, the wait is not over for thousands of individuals and teams who applied for Discovery Projects grants that could make or break their careers. The scheme typically attracts at least 3,000 applicants a year, of whom around one-fifth are chosen to share in some A$250 million in funding.

Outcomes are usually communicated by mid-November. Delays force some researchers to abandon their plans and seek opportunities outside academia or overseas. Others leave for summer breaks without knowing whether they will have jobs in the new year.

Future funding deadlines sometimes arrive before the results of past funding rounds have been revealed. This presents researchers with an agonising decision over whether to reapply, and risk wasting weeks of work seeking funds they may already have been awarded.

It is understood that Discovery funding recommendations were presented to the government for approval in early December, and considered by the acting minister on 9 December. Applicants asking when the outcomes will be revealed are told they will be advised “as soon as possible”.

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