Perhaps Dan Tehan did not like Simon Birmingham getting all the credit from critics of humanities research. Whatever the reason, Education Minister Tehan yesterday promised a national interest test for Australian Research Council funding and that he would announce projects he does not approve of.
What happened then: “Given the ARC’s expert panels already consider national benefit and impact when making their assessments, how will a new test add value and not just more red tape,?” the Australian Academy of the Humanities was quick to complain.
“If all research funded is narrowly targeted at an immediate problem or outcome then we will undercut our future. Any national interest test must not be limited to a narrow reading,” the Innovative Research Universities argued.
“We do not expect the minister for education to be an expert on research, but we do expect that someone holding this portfolio defers to the panel of experts on the ARC,” the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations added.
“How much extra time and effort will researchers and their universities spend trying to massage applications to highlight national interest rather than the intrinsic value of the proposal?,” National Tertiary Education Union president Alison Barnes asked.
There was more, much more, although Universities Australia and the Group of Eight accepted they need to work with the minister they have. “The Go8 is open to any further methodologies in the ARC application process where our researchers (across all disciplines) have the opportunity to illustrate more clearly how their work has national benefit,” CEO Vicki Thomson said. UA’s Catriona Jackson spoke similarly, “the sector would discuss with the minister what he has in mind given the existing requirement to outline the proposed advances of knowledge to the benefit to the nation.”
What happens next: A lot of work for the ARC is what, probably including a brief to the minister about the impact and engagement metrics already developed to measure university research performance. But anything much beyond that will apply to grant rounds yet to begin. Big change will depend on the government being returned at next year’s election.
What it means: Minister Tehan appears to have decided that the higher education community will not vote for the government and he may as well appeal to voters who will.