Group of Eight’s big ideas to fix the research system

The Group of Eight warns higher education research “operates in a fragmented and bureaucratic system” and the entire national effort “is in need of a long term and holistic approach.”

The elite research universities make their case for reform in a submission to the House of Representative committee inquiry into research funding, which calls for an end to the present, “distorted funding model.”
“The current policy architecture, developed over the past three decades, is suffering from growing inconsistencies and contradictions. The bulk of university funding in Australia is tied to student numbers. Yet an unintended consequence of this model is that it provides a financial disincentive for universities to grow research capacity. At the same time research itself is underfunded leaving both direct and indirect costs of research to be heavily cross-subsidised from teaching funding.”

The Go8 proposes eight comprehensive but carefully calibrated affirmations of best practise and reforms to resourcing.

rigorous, efficient, and transparent peer review system: “should continue to inform decisions of research funding based upon research excellence.”

a funding model that deals with the full economic cost of research: “we have a system under pressure and one that is not delivering anywhere near to the full economic cost of research – both in terms of direct and indirect costs”

reviewing policies that place inordinate and unnecessary pressures on both funded and funder resources: notably, Excellence for Research in Australia. “Accountability for research excellence could be delivered more efficiently by a modified ERA using publicly available data. Extending the period between iterations of ERA … would also increase efficiency while potentially not impacting on accountability.

continue to capitalise the Medical Research Future Fund: While the Go8 warns MRFF funded projects will add to indirect and infrastructure research costs, it “strongly supports” the government’s $20bn by 2020 target. This, “will contribute significantly to the health and well-being of the Australian community and the Australian economy by translating Australia’s world leading health and medical research.”

addressing the decline in real funding ex medicine via the Australian Research Council and a translation fund for research outside medicine and health: “Investigator led non-medical and health research is becoming less important in government funding terms, as priority-driven research takes precedence and the government’s “focus on fundamental or blue-sky research (is) eroded.” “This fund should be seen in the context of supporting the entire research pipeline from basic research to translation research and commercialisation.”

efficiencies in grant administration: “Funding agencies, and the commonwealth at large, can streamline existing requirements to reduce this significant investment of time and resources by researchers and university personnel without any reduction in research quality and funding accountability.”

evaluation of the economic and social benefit ROI of research and research training:  This, “is critical information that will demonstrate the economic return on supporting research and allow governments to make informed decisions to increase support for research in the national interest.”

increasing incentives for industry to engage with HE: While not proposed by the government in the R&D tax concession legislation, an incentive for business to collaborate with universities and public sector research agencies, “is a key measure to connect industry to the research sector.”


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