ARC Fellows Condemn Minister for Blocking Research Grants

Dozens of Australian Research Council winners have called federal government research funding “political and short-sighted” after six grants recommended for approval were blocked.

Acting Education Minister Stuart Robert announced the grant decision on Christmas Eve when researchers learned that some of the grants, which an independent peer review process had recommended receiving, had been refused.

The scholarships were all in the humanities with topics covering climate activism and China.

The minister said in the decision that the proposals “do not add value to taxpayers’ money or contribute to the national interest”.

Now more than 60 ARC laureates having written an open letter to the minister condemning the moment chosen for the decision and the minister’s intervention in the process.

ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt wrote on social media at the time that it was “totally inappropriate for subsidies to be removed by politicians, unless the subsidy rules were broken ”.

The academics say in their letter that the best return for taxpayer funding is to allow researchers to focus on “curiosity-driven research.”

“This has given us mRNA vaccines, the laser and many other inventions that have improved the quality of our lives,” they say.

“Whether it is the ‘national interest’ test or an excessive focus on a sector like manufacturing, research funding in Australia is becoming political and short-sighted.”

The grants were scheduled to start Jan. 1 and were announced a month later than usual, with researchers condemning the timing for not allowing staff retention and recruitment.

They requested that all ARC grants include an end date. Applicants must be informed of the result at least one month before the start of the grant.

The researchers also want a pledge that future grants will not be announced on Christmas Eve, and a guarantee that ministers will not interfere with the “rigorous peer review process” when the conditions are met.

A spokesperson for Roberts Recount the Sydney Morning Herald that the minister believed that the application of the national interest test did not work in all cases.

“This test should ensure that taxpayer-funded Australian government research funding is directed to areas of national importance and provides public value,” he said.

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