NHMRC grant review open for comment


10 Aug 2016

The NHMRC is inviting public submissions to its consultation on the review its grant program.

Announcing the review earlier this year CEO Professor Anne Kelso said. “We have a vibrant, highly productive and internationally competitive research community. However, we are also aware that the increasing number of applications places a heavy burden on applicants and on the many members of the research community who peer-review applications”.

“Concerns have also been raised that opportunities for early and mid-career researchers and for exploration of new areas of research are being affected.”

“We are therefore commencing an over-arching review of the structure of NHMRC’s grant program to determine whether we can streamline the current suite of funding schemes, while continuing to support the best Australian research and researchers for the benefit of human health.”

Last week the NHMRC held public forums in several capital cities for researchers and organisations to hear from NHMRC and ask questions about the review.

You can watch a video summary here.


Keep reading for the NHMRC’s FAQs on the review and details on how to make a submission.  

1. Why is the review being undertaken?

Feedback from the research sector indicates that the work required to prepare and evaluate the high numbers of grant applications that will not be funded is placing an unsustainable burden on applicants and peer reviewers. Concerns have also been raised that many researchers, especially those at early and mid-career stages, are also becoming discouraged from pursuing research and that there are disincentives to exploring new areas of research.

It is for these reasons that NHMRC is reviewing the structure of its grant program to determine whether it can be streamlined and adapted to meet these challenges, while ensuring that we continue to support high-quality research to achieve the best possible health outcomes.

2. Will the review consider submissions to NHMRC’s 2015 Fellowship Consultation?

Yes. Submissions to the Fellowship Consultation have been considered in developing the alternative models presented in the Review consultation paper.

The 148 submissions to the 2015 Fellowship Consultation were published on NHMRC’s website earlier this year. Click here for more information.

3. Why aren’t peer review processes being considered in the review?

The review is focussed on the structure of NHMRC’s grant program to ensure that the critical issues relating to the architecture of the program receive the attention they require. Once the review is completed and the structure of NHMRC’s grant program determined, NHMRC will consider changes to its application and peer review processes. The types of changes that could be explored will depend on the structure of the grant program. For example, if a new structure was introduced that led to a substantial reduction in application numbers, it may be feasible to hold more than one application round per year or continuous application rounds and/or iterative review of near-miss applications by the same grant review panel.

In 2016, NHMRC is trialling changes to the peer review process for its Development Grants scheme. The results of this trial will be considered with the outcomes of the review in discussions of future peer review processes. Click here for more information about the Development Grants scheme.

4. Will the review consider the relationship between support for health and medical research from NHMRC and the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)?

No. The review is focussed on how NHMRC could best structure its grant program to distribute research funds from the Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA).

Expenditure from the MRFF will be determined by the Minister for Health, guided by the strategy and priorities currently being developed by the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board and taking into account NHMRC’s strategy for health and medical research. The priorities guiding the MRFF’s expenditure are expected to be different and complementary to those of NHMRC.

5. Have international funding agencies been consulted?

Yes. There are a number of reforms taking place in other countries to address issues similar to those we are experiencing here in Australia. Accordingly, NHMRC is discussing the review with representatives from a number of international funding agencies to gain their insights into different grant program structures and their experience with reform.

The consultation paper

6. How did NHMRC come up with the alternative models presented in the consultation paper?

The alternative models were developed by the Office of NHMRC on the advice of an Expert Advisory Group and NHMRC Principal Committees, supplemented with advice from a reference group of early and mid-career researchers. The membership of the Expert Advisory Group and NHMRC Principal Committees is published on NHMRC’s website.

More information about the review, including the Expert Advisory Group, is here.

7. I like some aspects of the models. Would NHMRC consider a new model which brings together the elements that are most favoured?

Yes. If there are aspects of one model that you would like to see incorporated into another model, please include details in your responses to the questions in the consultation paper. In particular, the last question for each model asks, ‘Could the model be adjusted to optimise its impact? If so, how?’

8. Has NHMRC considered the program structure used by funding agencies abroad?

Yes. The structure of grant programs in a range of countries was considered, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The Expert Advisory Group also includes members with experience of other national and international grant programs.


9. How do I make a submission?

Submissions must be in writing and submitted via NHMRC’s online public consultation portal using the template provided. Click here to make a submission.

10. Is it possible to make a submission after the consultation period ends?

Submissions will only be accepted after the due date with prior approval. The submission period is open for 6 weeks until 25 August 2016, so we would not expect that extensions would be required. If you wish to seek an extension, please contactstructural.review@nhmrc.gov.au(link sends e-mail).

Please note you will need to have created an account and saved a draft submission via the NHMRC website before making a request to NHMRC. Click here for more information.

11. How will NHMRC consider the submissions?

The feedback provided by the submissions will assist the Expert Advisory Group in shaping its advice to the NHMRC CEO on whether and, if so, how to change the structure of NHMRC’s grant program.

12. Can anyone put in a submission?

Yes. We invite submissions from individuals or organisations and encourage organisations with peak body representation to direct their ideas through their peak body.

13. Will there be another opportunity to provide feedback after NHMRC decides on a model (eg a second consultation on refining the models and/or implementation)?

Formal consultation closes on 25 August 2016 and a submission by that time maximises the chances that your feedback can be considered. Further formal consultations are not planned but NHMRC is always happy to receive feedback about any aspect of its activities.

14. Will submissions be made available to the public?

In general, if a submitter provides NHMRC with permission to publish a submission on the NHMRC website, it will be published as soon as possible after administrative and committee processes have concluded.

Next steps

15. Who decides what the final program structure looks like?

The NHMRC CEO will determine whether there will be changes to the structure of the grant program and will advise the Minister for Health accordingly. This decision will be informed by feedback received through the consultation process and advice from the Expert Advisory Group, NHMRC Council and Principal Committees, supplemented by advice from a group of early and mid-career researchers and an international reference group.

The membership of the Expert Advisory Group and NHMRC’s principal committees is published on the NHMRC website. Click here for more information.

16. How does NHMRC plan to roll out any changes?

If the review results in a decision to change the structure of NHMRC’s grant program, the lead time required means that changes would likely be implemented from 2018. They would be supported by comprehensive transitional arrangements to cover the period it takes to move to the new structure, including ensuring that existing grants are not adversely affected.

17. Is there a possibility that the current model will be retained?

Yes. There has not yet been any decision to move away from the current model. Any decision will be informed by analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of each model, including feedback from the consultation process and advice from the Expert Advisory Group, NHMRC Council and Principal Committees, supplemented by advice from a group of early and mid-career researchers and an international reference group.

Source: NHMRC consultation portal. 

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