Putting the NHMRC Changes Under The Microscope

  Last updated June 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Topics:  

Who reviews the reviewers? Experts give their two cents on a major overhaul to research funding. 


The National Health and Medical Research Council have announced large scale changes to how they fund Australia’s medical and health research. There’s a lot to digest, but it seems that a number of the moves seem to be to ease the pressure of applying for grants which has traditionally been a laborious process with an extremely low success rate.


The new structure sees four types of grants and a limit on the number of grants that researchers can apply for and hold at any one time. While some grants will still focus on the track record of the applicant, the assessment of Ideas Grants, which are awarded to research projects addressing a specific question, will instead focus primarily on the quality of the science, innovation and significance of the proposed research. There will also be large grant support for multidisciplinary collaborations.


Experts from around Australia gave their opinions on these changes.


Professor Andrew Holmes is President of the Australian Academy of Science


“The changes will provide better opportunities for outstanding early- and mid-career researchers, and will address concerns about the potential for loss of creativity in research. Previously, funding applications for new ideas that pushed the boundaries may have had less prospect of success.


Of course adjustments will need to be made to the new system and we recognise some researchers will not be able to apply for the same number of grants as before.”


The new two-step review of applications will take pressure off both applicants and reviewers. Currently, applicants invest extraordinary amounts of time to apply for grants with a relatively low chance of success. Time spent on unsuccessful grant applications is better spent on doing valuable research. These reforms free up researchers to get on with solving health and medical research challenges.


I am encouraged that assessment of some grants under the new arrangements will be blinded to gender, age, career stage and institution.


Australia is a world-leader in many areas of health and medical research, from the Nobel-Prize winning discovery of the cause of gastric ulcers, to spray-on skin and the cervical cancer vaccine. The investment of taxpayers’ dollars in health and medical research by the NHMRC has had direct, beneficial outcomes for all Australians.


As the size and complexity of research required to improve health outcomes increases, these changes will go some way to ensuring that the funding structures in place to support our highly trained and specialised medical researchers are as robust as possible.”


Professor Adrian Barnett is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) & School of Public Health and Social Work at Queensland University of Technology


“Stronger restrictions on the number of grants per researcher is an interesting move. For obvious reasons, researchers with stellar track records get more funding, but I have seen situations where these stellar researchers have taken on too many grants and so the quality of their work goes down.


The planned restrictions may benefit our talented early career researchers who have more capacity to do the work and, in some cases, were the ones doing the work anyway behind the nominal stellar researcher.


However, an analysis of restricting grants to two per investigator at the US National Institutes of Health found that it would increase the grant success rate by just 2 per cent, so perhaps it won’t have much impact.


A key thing we have yet to see is the application forms.


The change has talked about ‘minimising the burden on researchers’ and hopefully that continues with short application forms that focus on the science.


Hopefully there’s also a plan to ditch the current application system (RGMS) for a system that’s easier to use and harnesses already existing data, saving researchers the need to waste time inputting their track records into fiddly forms.


We won’t really know how the changes work until the first round goes through. There’ll be furious activity behind the scenes now at every institution trying to work out what the changes mean and how best they can exploit them.”


Professor Tony Cunningham AO is President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)


“These changes will allow our brightest scientists to do what they do best and that’s medical research, instead of being overly burdened by preparing and submitting grant applications on a frequent basis, often taking them months to complete.


We welcome the NHMRC’s changes and look forward to seeing even better and more creative medical research underway in Australia thanks to increased flexibility in the grant program, allowing researchers more freedom to respond to new and evolving health challenges.


The new Ideas Grants are a really terrific development. Applications will primarily be judged on the quality of the research proposal alone, rather than the past track-record of the researcher. This will level the playing field and allow the next generation of great minds to compete better with senior researchers for research funding.


The changes will also provide improved career certainty for many researchers thanks to a lengthening in funding timelines, along with better support and job security for researchers at all career stages.”


Professor Nicholas Fisk is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of New South Wales 


“Professor Kelso is to be congratulated on pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Although the pie has not grown, her re-slicing goes some way to reducing the challenge of researchers having a salary but no research funds, or research funds but no salary.


Through fewer bigger-picture proposals, researchers will not need to spend so many months each year chasing success rates of under 15 per cent. The considerable time currently spent on grant applications each year will be far better spent doing actual research.”


Professor John Mattick AO is Executive Director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research


“The restructure is most welcome, and Garvan applauds the leadership of the NHMRC in refocusing and simplifying the research-granting landscape.


It will provide a more stable platform to gifted investigators to pursue brave and expansive programs of work, reduce unproductive churning and pressure on an overburdened review system, and encourage innovation instead of conservatism.


My only concern is that the quantum size for the Investigator Grants may be set too low by international standards, in an effort to spread the funds further, but that remains to be seen.


In all, a terrific reform.”


Professor Shitij Kapur is Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne


“I am delighted with this announcement because, as Minister Hunt pointed out, we are at the threshold of nearly doubling medical research funding for Australia.


It is very important therefore that we deliver on the returns of this investment, but do it in a way that allows our scientific community to flourish.


The announcement by NHMRC today promises a simplification of the system so our researchers can focus on the health and wealth agenda, rather than filling out forms.


And they promise a distribution of resources in such a way that Early Career Researchers and Middle Career Researchers can get on the career ladder earlier. Both of these are greatly welcomed, particularly the latter, as it will enable us to better retain the talents of female researchers in the workforce.


However, experiences in other jurisdictions such as Canada and the UK tell us that, no matter how perfectly a system is designed, there will always need to be a few tweaks to make it work well.


As the nation’s leading research institution, the University of Melbourne looks forward to working with the NHMRC and Professor Kelso to achieve the intended outcomes of this announcement.


Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get all the latest science.




About the Author

Ben Lewis
Ben Lewis is the Editor of Australia’s Science Channel, and a contributor to Cosmos Magazine. He has worked with scientists and science storytellers including Brian Cox, Chris Hadfield, Robert Llewellyn, astronauts, elite athletes, Antarctic explorers, chefs and comedians. Ben has also been involved in public events around Australia and was co-writer, producer and director of The Science of Doctor Who, which toured nationally in 2014 in association with BBC Worldwide Australia & New Zealand. Want more Ben? You can hear him on ABC and commercial radio in Adelaide, regional SA, across NSW, and the ACT. He also speaks at universities around Australia on communicating science to the public. Around the office he makes the worst jokes known to mankind.

Published By

Science and technology is as much a part of our cultural fabric as art, music, theatre and literature. They play a significant role in our daily lives, yet, in a world dependent on science, we often take them for granted. Australia’s Science Channel believes every citizen has a right, and a responsibility, to be informed, and our mission is to create programs to bring that about.


Featured Videos

Placeholder
Columbia: NASA blew it
Placeholder
The Face of a Stranger
Placeholder
Where Does Space Begin?
Placeholder
The Rarest Drug on Earth
Placeholder
Why is blue so rare in nature
Placeholder
Ant Sisters
Placeholder
Jeremy the Lefty Snail and Other Asymmetrical Animals
Placeholder
Tracking Snow
Placeholder
Smart Slime?
Placeholder
Good in the machine
Placeholder
Kessler Syndrome: What happens when satellites collide?
Placeholder
Why This Skateboarding Trick Should Be Impossible
Placeholder
Charles Camarda on becoming an astronaut
Placeholder
Alan Duffy on what it took to get humans to the Moon
Placeholder
Do aliens exist? Brian Cox explains
Placeholder
From Apollo to Pulsars: Parkes still dishing out the discoveries
Placeholder
Brian Cox on black holes
Placeholder
Australia's 60,000 years of space history
Placeholder
In Class With… Jane Goodall
Placeholder
Etienne Rastoin-Laplane - What's fishy about the Galapagos?
Placeholder
Kit Prendergast - Flowers to keep native bees buzzing
Placeholder
Rebecca Wellard - Eavesdropping on killer whales
Placeholder
Hossein Tavassoli - Mending broken hearts
Placeholder
Dilan Seckiner - Forensic gait analysis
Placeholder
Samuel Bladwell - A new spin on electronics
Placeholder
Sathana Dushyanthen - The double-edged cancer sword
Placeholder
Dwan Price - Nuts and Guts
Placeholder
Catriona Nguyen-Robertson - Exercise takes your immune system for a ride
Placeholder
Thimo Ruethers - The deadly danger of crocs on a plate
Placeholder
Amanda Tauber - Slamming the brakes on metastatic cancer
Placeholder
Hayley Teasdale – The ball that prevents falls (FameLab Australia 2019 Runner-up)
Placeholder
In the Shadow of a Black Hole
Placeholder
In Class With... Monica Gagliano
Placeholder
In Class With... Brian Cox
Placeholder
Start your FameLab 2019 journey now
Placeholder
Nural Cokcetin - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Erinn Fagan-Jeffries - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Ronald Yu - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Noushin Nasiri - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Grassroots
Placeholder
What is machine learning?
Placeholder
Mythbusting artificial intelligence with expert Anton van den Hengel
Placeholder
Using machine learning to predict medical outcomes
Placeholder
KCLOC
Placeholder
Nature Calls
Placeholder
Mexican Fishing Bats
Placeholder
Bittersweet
Placeholder
Timelapse
Placeholder
Invisible Blanket
Placeholder
Look
Placeholder
The Anomalies: Venom Race
Placeholder
Science Meets Making
Placeholder
Spiral
Placeholder
Looking Out There
Placeholder
Protectors of the Penguins
Placeholder
Astroturf
Placeholder
Virtual Humans
Placeholder
Rancheros del Jaguar
Placeholder
Searching For Dark Matter
Placeholder
Finding prehistoric mega-shark fossils on Victoria's coast
Placeholder
The Grandfather of computers
Placeholder
James Cameron talks science
Placeholder
In Class With.....David Suzuki - The Environment
Placeholder
In Class With.....David Suzuki - Career
Placeholder
Sustainable water use with Doug Green
Placeholder
Why is Indigenous science important?
Placeholder
Vanessa Pirotta - Using drones to collect whale snot (FameLab Australia 2018 Winner)
Placeholder
Toby Hendy - Poking Plants (FameLab Australia 2018 Runner-Up)
Placeholder
Muthu Vignesh Vellayappan - Groovy Patches (FameLab Australia 2018 Audience Choice)
Placeholder
Taryn Laubenstein - The Tail of Two Fishes
Placeholder
Richard Charlesworth - Coeliac disease diagnosis can be a pain in the posterior
Placeholder
Pegah Maasoumi - Solar Windows
Placeholder
James Wong - Breathing while you hop: How do kangaroos do it?
Placeholder
Ben McAllister - The ORGAN Experiment: Shining a light on dark matter
Placeholder
Mortaza Rezae - Empowering beautiful minds
Placeholder
Zane Stromberga - Can allergy drugs beat bladder disease?
Placeholder
Working In.....Art - Astrophotography
Placeholder
What's the best way to move - springs or muscles?
Placeholder
FameLab Australia Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Saving lives with platypus milk
Placeholder
Australian astronomers witness death throes of a cocooned star
Placeholder
How Australia's politicians see our future in space
Placeholder
Keeping satellites in the loop
Placeholder
Tim Flannery talks about COP
Placeholder
Tim Jarvis & Tim Flannery talk Climate Change
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - robo baby, university rankings, and cancer on circadian rhythms
Placeholder
From chocolate factory to surgery - the milliDelta robot
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science: video games, low tech transition windows and a new CRISPR technique
Placeholder
Science lessons useful in Art Restoration career
Placeholder
Are drones the future of racing?
Placeholder
The future of esports according to the experts
Placeholder
Seeing is believing with artist Eugenie Lee
Placeholder
The human impact of Art Science collaboration
Placeholder
Follow your Interests in Robotics
Placeholder
Zoz on 3D Printing
Placeholder
Flavia Tata Nardini on women in engineering
Placeholder
Flavia Tata Nardini on the future of the internet
Placeholder
Explore the ocean floor and Antarctic biodiversity
Placeholder
Follow your interests in Medical Research
Placeholder
Artists on Science
Placeholder
What is Space Archaeology?
Placeholder
Follow your Interests
Placeholder
Scientists on Art
Placeholder
3D Printing in Medical Research
Placeholder
Ethical Issues
Placeholder
Problem Solving - Robotics at Dermatec
Placeholder
Problem Solving with CSI
Placeholder
Tamarah King - Earthquake Geologist
Placeholder
True or False with Bajo and Rad BONUS ROUND
Placeholder
True or False with Bajo & Rad
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - Cats vs Dogs
Placeholder
FameLab 2018 - Get Involved!
Placeholder
Nural Cokcetin - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Erinn Fagan-Jeffries - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Noushin Nasiri - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Ronald Yu - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Alan Duffy's Top 5 Science Communication Tips
Placeholder
A Judge's Top Tips for FameLab Australia
Placeholder
Brain Candy - Why, Why, Why Michael Stevens?
Placeholder
The Past, Present, and Future of Malaria
Placeholder
This is a video of poo pills being made!
Placeholder
Mind Games - Sports Psychology
Placeholder
Fuel to Win - Sports Nutrition
Placeholder
Fifty years since Australia beat the world to space
Placeholder
ECR Network: Talk Your Science with Alan Duffy
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - chimps, klompen, and clouds
Placeholder
Our robot medicine future - heart huggers and micro biohybrids
Placeholder
Six Awkward Cancer Questions
Placeholder
How do you tell if a whale is left-handed?
Placeholder
She Flies - Turning Girls into Drone Pilots
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - Magnetic Fabric, Cancer Treatments, and Echolocation
Placeholder
The Science of Sexuality
Placeholder
Sailing Through Space with Bill Nye
Placeholder
Using Sports Science to Help Olympic Athletes
Placeholder
Three and a Half Minutes of Top Shelf Career Advice
Placeholder
New Space Tech with Andrea Boyd
Placeholder
Kelly Meets the Mars Curiosity Rover
Placeholder
Hearts, Opera, and Tough Conversations - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Bill Nye on Science, Girls, and Saving the World!
Placeholder
2017 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Part 2
Placeholder
2017 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Part 1
Placeholder
Who Decides the Law in Space?
Placeholder
Scientists Watch Collision That Created Gravitational Waves
Placeholder
Getting Cold Feet Leads to a Whole New Career
Placeholder
ECR Network - Why Every Scientist Should Be on Twitter - The Benefits
Placeholder
ECR Network - Why Every Scientist Should Be On Twitter - The Fears
Placeholder
Live Podcast - Life Vs Science
Placeholder
Origami Robots, Babies, and Kidneys - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Namira Salim and the Zero-G Peace Summit
Placeholder
Elon Musk's Mars Plan: Expert Analysis
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Thursday
Placeholder
My Time in Space
Placeholder
IAC TV Daily Broadcast - Wednesday
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Wednesday
Placeholder
IAC TV Daily broadcast - Tuesday
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Tuesday
Placeholder
IAC TV daily broadcast - Monday
01:00:41
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Monday
Placeholder
Live from IAC 2017
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Technology Rewrites History
Placeholder
Methamphetamine - Gateway Drug to Parkinson's Disease
Placeholder
Concussion, 3D BioPrinting, and The Universe - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Pulsars, Clearwigs, and Pacemakers - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Revolutions - The Quest to Transform HPV Racing
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Hurricane Irma Blows Away Tesla's Rip Off
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Limit of Your Lifespan
Placeholder
The Recipient
Placeholder
Think Like a Scientist: Natural Selection in an Outbreak
Placeholder
The End of Snow
Placeholder
The Next Rembrandt
Placeholder
The Discarded
Placeholder
The Spectators
Placeholder
Test Tube Babes
Placeholder
Pangolins in Peril- A Story of Rare Scales
Placeholder
Rock Art Project
Placeholder
Pork.0
Placeholder
OWSIA (Darkened Water)
Placeholder
Nex
Placeholder
Northern Quolls
Placeholder
Dish Life
Placeholder
At Street Level
Placeholder
Custom Love
Placeholder
Adrift
Placeholder
A Story from Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Most Dangerous Thing in Boxing May Be the Gloves
Placeholder
ECR Network 2017 – Get Interdisciplinary!
01:27:00
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: The Future of Space Exploration
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: Life After Space
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: Life in Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Let's Make Algae Australian of the Year
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia's Energy Showdown
Placeholder
Nine Awkward Astrophysicist Questions
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - There's No Such Thing as an Exercise Pill
Placeholder
National Science Week Awards Show
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Your 5 Step Asteroid Success Plan
Placeholder
National Science Week Forecast
Placeholder
Open Doors. Open Future. Open Day.
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Lose a Little to Gain Millions
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Crowd Sourcing Origami Astronaut Protection
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - T-Rex's Prehistoric Power Walk
Placeholder
True or False with Kale Brock
Placeholder
The Grandfather Paradox
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Hidden Heroes Tackling Mozzies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Emergency AI Assistance
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Frogs Forever, Dinosaurs Never!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia, Let's Go To Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Welcome to the Microbiome, Archaea!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Roos Blindside Driverless Cars
Placeholder
Biodiversity of Antarctica Under Threat From Increase In Ice-Free Areas
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Future of the Census
Placeholder
Tell Me! Brian Cox
Placeholder
Crash, Burn, Tweak, Repeat
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Humans Just Got Older and Wiser
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Cheers to Brain Health?
Placeholder
Gene Therapy Could Cure Allergies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - iHeart Hacking
Placeholder
Ridiculology - New Hubble
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Trees Alone Can't Save Us
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Earth's Accidental Force Field
Placeholder
Dinosaurs on the Big Screen
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Farewell MP3
Placeholder
Kids Beat Grown-ups on Pneumonia Vaccines
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Booger Conspiracy
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 National Final - Part 2
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 National Final - Part 1
Placeholder
2017 Budget Response
Placeholder
What Are Animal Weapons?
Placeholder
If You Love Both Art and Science, Be a Scientific Illustrator
Placeholder
Getting Personal With Skinks
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - CSIRO Email Leaks
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 Western Australia Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - New Hope for Premmies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Britain Goes Coal-Free
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Naked Mole-Rats (SFW)
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Easter Reminders
Placeholder
Meet Andrea Boyd - Space Flight Controller
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Sperm Drug Smugglers
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 New South Wales Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
The Science of Fiction
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Liquorice Poisoning
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Crowdsourcing Science
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 Queensland Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - SpaceX Preps for Relaunch
Placeholder
Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome Breakthrough
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Surviving a Media Storm
Placeholder
Will This Aussie Team Win the Race to Create the Ultimate Malaria Vaccine?
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - New Dino Family Tree
Placeholder
How to fix things with Kyle Wiens
Placeholder
Repair or replace? iFixit co-founder Kyle Wiens
Placeholder
Special Investigation - No Alternative to Cancer
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Raspberry Pi is Number 3 Best-Selling Computer