The nitpicking of research grants dulls our creativity


So relieved Prime Minister of the Multitudes did not enroll in education. At least I think not. But I’m also sad because education is the most important role a minister can perform on behalf of our nation and Scott Morrison didn’t care. He appointed cronies, not masterminds, to run the industry.

The new federal Minister of Education, Jason Clare, has his work cut out for him.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Now the education sector is in chaos and the new minister, Jason Clare, has ten years of work ahead of him, of which the teacher shortage is not half. Universities and vocational education, where our futures flourish, are completely devastated. Mass layoffs. Offerings reduced by half. Entire courses have disappeared. Universities, and the many deep things they contain, have been destroyed after a decade of Coalition abuse: Denial of JobKeeper, introduction of the Jobs Ready Graduates program and devastating veto of research grants by the Minister of Education of the time, Stuart Robert.

If we want to cure cancer and deliver quantum computing, we need higher education. Hope is on the horizon. Jason Clare is about to send out a letter of request that should change lives, at least in universities, for the better. During the speech, it is the letter of expectations to the CEO of the Australian Research Council Judith Zielke, quick replacement for former CEO Sue Thomas. Zielke, a fine servant to CSIRO as COO, is the first non-academic to be appointed to the position. The ARC oversees grants to Australian researchers for basic research, but its current practice, which Zielke permits, appears to seek quick returns, rather than long-term futures.

Once grants are submitted, they go to a college of experts (peer reviewers who actually understand the research) who make recommendations. It is a clear system. As someone who has experienced peer review, giving birth is preferable.

Zielke’s job, at least according to the former government, was to ensure that universities’ research aligned with what it perceived to be “the national interest,” including how it might be commercialized. It was a by-product of Robert harmful decision on Christmas Eve to undermine the usual rigorous review process and veto six grants it has determined are not in the public interest. Apparently, the research on climate and China did not make the cut. No wonder we’re in trouble.

Former Federal Education Minister Stuart Robert.

Former Federal Education Minister Stuart Robert.Credit:Rhett Wyman

So how is the national interest test handled? As far as anyone can tell, Zielke herself reads every 150-word National Interest Test (NIT) statement and sends it back, up to four times (that’s the record I’ve heard) . Already ARC grants have delayed deadlines and this micromanagement is doing more damage. When Jason Claire spoke to Universities Australia earlier this year he promised fewer delays, more transparency, less political interference. As long as the National Interest TestNIT remains, that won’t happen.

Monash University Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner is right to rejoice in her university’s success. In two hot minutes she had Moderna moves in and millions of dollars in philanthropy flock to the university for mental health initiatives. But she is desperately concerned about the state of the CRA – the delays are causing anxiety and adding to the workload in an already overstretched sector. Moreover, it poses the relevant question: should we delay research assessments while waiting for a quick summary?

Nicholas Fisk, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at UNSW, says researchers completed 70 rewrites in two months; at Monash, the number of rewrites quintupled; Kevin Dunn of the University of Western Sydney says there are benefits to making research accessible, but the current process is overkill. ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor Keith Nugent, who is also seeing a significant increase in multiple reviews, reveals that his Vice-Chancellor, Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, reviewed some of the statements now made before they were released. be forwarded to the CRA. Why does anyone question a Nobel laureate?


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