The eagerly awaited changes to the NHMRC’s grant program have been announced this morning. As Research Australia and many others in our sector have advocated for, they are a combination of elements from the models proposed in the consultation paper issued in the middle of last year. Importantly, these changes reflect much of the advice provided to the review panel from the sector.
Research Australia welcomes the reforms announced and notes that there is never ‘a perfect solution’ but that these changes are a positive step in the right direction and address key issues flagged by the sector. Research Australia also commends the efforts of the NHMRC CEO Anne Kelso AO and the Expert Advisory Group chaired by Professor Steve Wesselingh.
The stated aims of the changes are to:
- Encourage research that is more creative and innovative
- Provide opportunities for Australia’s best health and medical researchers at all career stages, and
- Minimise the burden on researchers in preparing and reviewing grant applications, allowing them to spend more time on research.
NHMRC Fellowships, Program Grants, and Project Grants are replaced with three new schemes – Investigator Grants, Synergy Grants and Ideas Grants. As foreshadowed in the consultation, limits will be placed on the number of Investigator, Synergy and Ideas Grants that an individual researcher can apply for, and hold.
The NHMRC’s other funding schemes are grouped together as Strategic and Leveraging Grants. The most significant changes here are an enhanced Targeted Calls for Research scheme and a dedicated funding stream for Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies. The latter recognises the increasing importance of these studies and their generally greater cost and complexity. The Strategic and Leveraging Grants also includes International Collaborative Schemes, Centres of Research Excellence, Partnerships for Better Health and Development Grants.
Investigator Grants will consolidate separate fellowship and research support into one grant scheme that will provide the highest-performing researchers at all career stages with funding for their salary (if required) and a significant research support package (RSP). Investigator Grants without salary support will be available for researchers who, for example, hold non-NHMRC Fellowships or academic positions.
Ideas Grants will support innovative and creative research projects, and be available for researchers with bright ideas at all career stages, including early and mid-career researchers.
Synergy Grants will provide $5 million per grant for outstanding multidisciplinary teams to work together to answer complex questions.
- Grants that are held by researchers at the time of implementation will be honoured under their existing schemes.
- Transitional arrangements will begin in 2018 and include the introduction of a new cap for Project Grants (up to two applications), and the application of a new framework for assessment and funding of clinical trials and large cohort studies.
- The new structure will be fully implemented for applications submitted in late 2018-early 2019, for peer review during 2019 and funding in 2020.
- There will be no Program Grants round in 2018 (for funding in 2020) as this scheme will be replaced by the Synergy Grant scheme (first applications in 2019, for funding in 2020).
The following table provided by the NHMRC summarises the changes.