Deadlines extended for Australian funding applications

Research funders, regulator and bureaucrats ease pressure on academics and universities as coronavirus blows out timelines

March 30, 2020
Time going by
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Australia’s research funding bodies have extended application deadlines for five grant schemes and cancelled a sixth, as the coronavirus erodes the time available for researchers to apply for funding or review each other’s submissions.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has deferred due dates for applications to three programmes. Submissions for next year’s round of the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) scheme, which were to have fallen due on 1 April, have now been deferred by four weeks.

Applications for the Special Research Initiative and the first assessment round of Linkage Projects have both been put back a fortnight to 6 May and 22 April respectively.

The developments, announced on 28 March, suggest the ARC is becoming increasingly sympathetic as researchers face mass disruption from the pandemic. As recently as 25 March it had counselled the research community to observe the 1 April deadline for LIEF applications.

And in an update issued two days before that, the ARC had resisted calls for blanket extensions, citing concerns about the domino effect on future funding rounds. However, it had committed to be “flexible and generous” in its treatment of individual requests for extension, and on 26 March it told Times Higher Education that it had approved all requests so far.

The ARC’s latest move came a day after the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) announced a five-week extension to the Ideas Grant Scheme, with funding applications now due on 10 June.

The NHMRC has also delayed the Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies scheme by six months. And the Synergy Grant Scheme, designed to support multidisciplinary teams addressing major health questions beyond the scope of single researchers, has been cancelled for this year.

CEO Anne Kelso said the NHMRC had adopted an “all hands on deck” approach to get other grant schemes over the line. “We won’t be able to do everything and have decided to prioritise completing the Ideas Grant round due to its size and broad impact across the sector.”

She said administration of health research grants had been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. “Many of our regular peer reviewers will not be available, given their involvement in the clinical and public health response to the Covid-19 outbreak, and additional teaching and caring responsibilities.”

Researchers who had committed to review Synergy Grant applications would now be asked to scrutinise Ideas Grant submissions instead, she said.

Meanwhile, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency is extending current provider registrations and course accreditations and giving institutions more time to meet reporting obligations and apply for renewals. And the Department of Education has suspended two mandatory projects to boost transparency in student admissions and spending.

A “production release” for the Transforming the Collection of Student Information project, which had been earmarked for May, has been deferred indefinitely.

Universities Australia said the “common sense” decision would relieve pressure on institutions which were already battling to overhaul their research and teaching and their arrangements for students and staff.

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