ARC’s preprint misstep over DECRA grant applications 


The Australian Research Council might be out of step with the world, but institutional administrative areas are out of step with one another

There has been a flurry of interest on Twitter around the ARC’s recent decision to determine a number of Discovery Early Career Researcher Award grant applications ineligible because they referred to multiple forms of standard disciplinary forms of communication that have not been formally published, including pre-prints.

Responses ranged from the polite “ARC showing that they are more than just a little behind the times”, to confounded: “has ARC been asleep during the past 18 months, when preprints have helped accelerate COVID-19 research?” to the outraged: “unconscionable, unethical, and indefensible”.

After the fact, the Australian Institute of Physics (a discipline which has been using preprints in arXiv for literally 30 years) is: “in the process of preparing a response on behalf of the Australian physics community regarding this year’s ARC eligibility criteria.”

The ARC’s position does place it at odds with many funders across the world. Mentions of preprints by funders range from “accepting preprints in grant applications” (Wellcome Trust, January 2017 and BBSRC, (June 2017) to “encouraging investigators to use interim research products, such as preprints, to speed the dissemination and enhance the rigor of their work”  (National Institutes of Health, March 2017), to “actively encouraging researchers to share their pre-peer reviewed manuscripts via established preprint servers” (MRC, pre June 2017).

Beyond grant allocations, the UK Research and Innovation, which manages block grant funding to universities in the UK, not only encourages the use of preprints, but “reserves the right to ensure the use of preprints in the context of emergencies” (August 2021). Indeed, there is a list of funders accepting preprints from not just USA and UK but also Canada, Europe and Brazil.

As CMM reported on Friday, the ARC argued that this exclusion was clearly identified and research offices were told in webinar briefings. Moving beyond the validity or otherwise of ARC’s stance, this then points to a problem at the institution end. Why were the serious implications of this requirement only noticed at the point where applications were excluded?

Open access is mostly managed by library teams, where institutional repositories sit, and ARC grants application briefings are still mostly only attended by research offices. As one of the comments on Twitter noted: “all this time, librarians have been throwing their (limited) resources behind teaching open access to researchers but we should have started and stayed with teaching it to research offices”.

Until there is a change of mind at the ARC, perhaps this extraordinarily timely guide might be helpful – “What to do if you’re asked to remove a citation to a preprint”.


Dr Danny Kingsley is Associate Librarian (Content & Digital Library Strategy), at Flinders University. These are her personal opinions