Vice-Chancellors and their delegates today said the decision undermined confidence in the nation’s research funding system and sent exactly the wrong message to the global research community.
These highly competitive grants are judged by panels of the most eminent experts in each field of research, through a lengthy and rigorous process to determine which projects receive funds.
Expert review is the cornerstone of merit-based research systems around the world. It ensures that taxpayer funds are spent wisely on the best research across all fields of endeavour. This also ensures Australia remains at the forefront of global research advances.
A Ministerial veto decision in the research grants system erodes global confidence in Australia’s research program and our reputation for research excellence.
Such a veto also undermines academic freedom, by opening the door to any Minister deciding they don’t like a research topic – irrespective of its merits – that could transform knowledge in a field.
The Higher Education Support Act obliges every university to have a policy that upholds free intellectual inquiry in teaching, learning and research. There is an irony in the Minister responsible for that Act breaching that same principle by exercising such a veto.
It is particularly disappointing to note that all 11 vetoed projects were in the humanities – which receives the smallest amount of funding by far of all the fields of research.
These researchers have suffered damage to their careers, missed out on professional opportunities and, in some cases, have now been lost to Australia because they have been recruited by universities overseas.
This veto has also endangered the reputation and trust in the work of the highly-esteemed Australian Research Council, one of the nation’s major research funding agencies.
ARC staff have also been placed in the invidious position of having to give feedback to applicants whose projects were recommended for funding but then vetoed – without a public explanation from the Minister.
We urge the Government to mitigate the damage to these researchers and Australia’s research integrity by reversing the veto on these 11 grants – and committing to follow expert advice in future.