Australian Research Council
13 February 2013
CHAIR: We will now reconvene and I welcome Professor Byrne from the Australian Research Council along with officers of the ARC. Before we go to questions, prior to the break Senator Heffernan wished to table some documents. I have had some discussions with the secretary and the documents—minus personal details—are tabled.
Senator RHIANNON: I am interested in the Future Fellowships program. Do you look after that?
Prof. Byrne : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: I continue to hear good comments about it. Bringing researchers back from overseas is something that always pleases Australians. Does the program continue past 2013?
Prof. Byrne : This is the last year of allocation for Future Fellowships. They are four-year programs, but this is the last year of allocation that was programmed in at the beginning of the program five years ago.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering the success I understand it has had—that is certainly the perception—what is the future looking like? Do you think that those trends will continue, or do we need a similar program to continue?
Prof. Byrne : I think the Future Fellowships program, as you have just indicated, has actually been a very successful program. When I go around the country and talk to all of the institutions, it has really struck me how that has made a difference in all institutions, be it the very big ones or the very small ones. I think it has been a tremendously successful program for the ARC and that it has been very useful to do the things that you indicated.
Senator RHIANNON: Do you think that we will start to lose the benefit? Maybe, for a couple of years, it will continue to work. Do you think that the tide has turned?
Prof. Byrne : The tide has turned in what sense: that we do not need to look at opportunities for mid-career researchers? I think that it is always the case, that we have to do our best both to support researchers, as we can, to do good research and to provide opportunities to bring people back. We have other programs as well but, yes, it has been a particularly successful one.
Senator RHIANNON: Are you saying that the other programs will fill the hole when this one ends?
Prof. Byrne : No, I do not think they will. That money will disappear out of our allocation. It was only programmed in for five years, and then we rolled it out over those four years. That was the intention of that program, but it has been very successful.
Senator RHIANNON: So you do not think we need to continue it in any way?
Prof. Byrne : I think it has been very successful. I would like to see it continue.
Senator RHIANNON: Would you like to see it continued?
Prof. Byrne : I would.
Senator RHIANNON: Is there any indication that it will?
Prof. Byrne : I do not have any clarity on that at the moment. I do not know the answer to that.
Senator RHIANNON: Have you made representations that it should continue?
Prof. Byrne : I have certainly talked to the minister about this.
Senator RHIANNON: I would like to look at the changes to university research funding that occurred in the midyear budget. Have they affected programs and research projects? Were any projects cut or put on hold because of those—
Prof. Byrne : No they were not. Our programs were not cut as part of that process.
Senator RHIANNON: If they were not cut, were they just put on hold?
Prof. Byrne : No. It did affect—and I think I mentioned this last time I appeared at this meeting—the timing of some of our grant programs, and forced a compression of the timing which is quite difficult for institutions to manage, but that really has been the most significant effect of that.
Senator RHIANNON: So, it has affected some grant programs, but they were not cut. When you say compression—
Prof. Byrne : No, typically what we do is open a program for application for a particular period and give clear signals to the sector when we are opening particular programs for application. Because of the grants pause that was in place towards the end of last year we did not have the clarity there, which meant that we could not inform institutions about the opening and closing dates as early as we would have liked. In some cases we have had to shorten the application period. It was rather minor, but this time of year is a very busy time for the sector, and even a program that is open for a week less than in it was in previous years causes a little bit of anxiety and distress in institutions.
Senator RHIANNON: When you say that the application period was shortened—and you have said that that could cause stress with some of the institutions—does that mean that some possibly missed out because they just did not have the time?
Prof. Byrne : I do not think so. We are in a very busy period in terms of the grant application period; many of our programs are open at the moment. Discovery is open at the moment. The indication that we are seeing is that the application rate for all of these programs is very, very high.
Senator RHIANNON: Would it be fair to summarise that you are saying there may have been inconvenience for the institutions but there were not cuts to the work that they are doing?
Prof. Byrne : I think that is probably the right word to use: inconvenience.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.
CHAIR: That concludes our discussion with the Australian Research Council. Thank you for your assistance this morning, Professor Byrne and Ms Harvey.