New ways for the ARC to work

The research national interest test is going but the Minister of Education will still be able to block grants.

Proposed amendments to the Australian Research Council Act would mean parliament has the power to disallow grant guidelines, “to protect the system from unwarranted political interference in the future.”

ARC due diligence on grants would use the Universities Foreign Interference Guidelines and be in consultation with national security agencies

But the Minister of Education could still direct the ARC to “not fund or to recover funds from research grants” based on national security concerns.

Both intents are in a proposed rewrite of the ARC Act, following QUT VC Margaret Sheil and colleagues’ Review, released in April.

The Sheil Review’s recommendations were applauded by the research community, especially the curtain for performance measure Excellence for Research in Australia, which Education Minister Jason Clare was quick to announce.

This was ahead of the government’s formal response to recommendations. Which wasn’t until August, when all ten were agreed or agreed in principle.

But that wasn’t that – what with the point of the review being to update the agency’s act.

And so the Department of Education proposed ways to do it, which were put out for consultation last month.

But only, mind, to people DoE approved of, “key higher education stakeholders” is the way the department put it. And even they were told to keep it brief, only allowed 1000 words and to be quick about it – responses were required by Monday just past.

Proposed amendments to the Act include,

  • amending the ARC’s objective to include, “promote and conduct activities to shape and foster the Australian research community for the benefit of the nation”
  • establishing a board, “as the accountable authority” with a chair, a deputy and three to five members, including a First Nations representative. The board will appoint the CEO in consultation with the minister. It will be supported by an advisory committee
  • specifying  the board is responsible for individual grant decisions but the minister of education sets research priorities in consultation with the minister for industry and science
  • the minister of education would also be able to approve funding outside the competitive grants process for “for nationally significant program investments.” The minister would also approve grants for, ARC Centres of Excellence, Industrial Transformation Training Centres and Industrial Transformation Research Hubs, “in recognition of their role in creating research capability.”



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