More than 600 new research projects receive funding boost from Australian government

By @iamkarlatecson on
A parking sign stands in front of St. John's College at the University of Sydney February 6, 2007. The Australian university has agreed not to conduct stem cell research in a new medical centre to be built on land bought from the Catholic college, sparking criticism the deal undermines the freedom of academic research. Reuters/Tim Wimborne

A total of 635 Australian research projects have been given the green light for 2016, backed by a research grant amounting to almost $245 million.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) awarded the project funds to universities across the country under the Discovery Projects scheme. Among the administering organisations that applied, the University of Melbourne and the Queensland University got the biggest slice of the pie, each receiving more than $30 million of research funding.  

According to Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, the new projects would create new knowledge, underpinning the strength of Australia’s research sector. “The Discovery Projects scheme allows researchers to take an idea and investigate—and while the impact of the outcome may not be evident for many years following, the initial support provided through a Discovery Project grant is critical,” he said.

The majority of approved research projects prioritised lifting productivity and economic growth as well as living in a changing environment. In terms of the type of projects, biological sciences and engineering received approval more than any other disciplines.  

The funded research projects include La Trobe University’s evaluation of how historical gold mining has shaped river systems, which could lead to improved catchment and reservoir management. For this study, the university received a grant amounting to more than $650,000.

The University of Adelaide, meanwhile, received $340,000 for its study on developing wearable textile antennas that can form robust connections with miniature battery-less motion sensors to monitor activity of Australia’s ageing community.

According to Birmingham, pure research, such as these projects, has an important role to play in the entire Australian research landscape since new knowledge often leads to commercial application.

However, The Conversation points out that only 17.7 percent of ARC Discovery Project grant applications are funded, which means more than four out of five applications are left with researchers to manage on their own. The authors also noted that for those who get funded, budgets are typically slashed by a third.

In analysing the results of the ARC grant scheme, the site's authors also observed that ARC Discovery Projects are typically led by the most senior academics. According to the report, full professors were the lead authors of 60 percent of all ARC Discovery Projects, while associate professors led 18 percent. Senior lecturers and lecturers split the remaining 22 percent, the authors said. 

“ARC Discovery Projects are intended to foster innovative research, but are they effectively delivering funds to researchers in their prime? Unfortunately, ARC Discovery Projects may be favouring senior academics rather than efficiently fostering innovation,” the authors noted in the article.

On its website, ARC said that the Discovery Projects scheme seeks to support excellent basic and applied research by individuals and teams, encourage research and research training in high-quality research environments as well as expand Australia’s knowledge base and research capability.

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