Speech: We need to fix the state of research funding
I speak to take note of document No. 5 in the Senate Order of Business, the Australian Research Council grant recommendations July 2021. Firstly, I must congratulate those researchers who were successful in the current round of DECRA, as listed in the document. It is not an easy time to be an early-career researcher in this country, and I hope that you're able to conduct your rigorous academic work, which will be of enormous benefit to the community for years to come. But let's be honest about the process for this funding round and the recent Future Fellowships round. It was a flawed process. The rule change from the ARC that rendered ineligible dozens of grant applications citing preprint publications has had such a terrible impact on so many researchers, particularly those in STEM. Researchers say the rule change was poorly communicated and does not seem to have any basis in research integrity. For many in the sciences, citing preprints of other scholars is a basic and unavoidable part of their work. Some have noted that this rule disadvantages not just the sciences but those working in fast-moving fields of research. It is completely counterproductive to the pursuit of intellectual inquiry, especially in the ever-changing research world of 2021.
Since the news of this matter emerged late last week, hundreds of researchers have signed letters petitioning the ARC to change its approach on preprint publications. As reported in Guardian Australia, the President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor John Shine, wrote to Minister Tudge to say:
It could easily be argued that a researcher not referencing material found in preprints is not using the full range of contemporary knowledge in a discipline.
He also offered the academy's services in developing a new approach. A new approach is what is needed, and I hope that the ARC will listen. It should be mindful that the new rule could also impact applications currently under consideration, and the ARC should ensure that those applications do not meet a similar fate. As a former academic and university researcher, I know all too well how difficult it is to apply for these extremely competitive grants when the stakes are so high and opportunities so few.
What this saga has exposed is much more than the use or role of preprint publications in academic grant applications. It's hit a nerve about the broken model of research funding in this country. Increasingly, thousands of bright, motivated, curious researchers across the country feel that their contributions are being completely disregarded and devalued by a narrow-minded, short-sighted, anti-intellectual government. Over the last 18 months and even before that, it has absolutely pained me to see so many researchers and academics leave higher education, either because they were forced to or because they see no future in it. It is so depressing and, honestly, it's a disgrace. I will keep fighting for higher education staff and students who still believe we can have world-class, well-funded, fee-free university and TAFE in the country. There is so much at stake, and very little time to turn this ship around.