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NHMRC

A history of the NHMRC through research and researcher activities

Paraphrasing the title of a 1991 song by Australia's Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody — From little things, big things grow — this truly reflects the history of the NHMRC through its research activities — from research funding of $2 million in 1937 to more than $630 million in 2007.

NHMRC's relatively modest beginnings in 1937 saw an initial Australian Government budget appropriation of £30,000 (equivalent to $2.06 million in 2005). The Council recommended to the Government of the day that the £30,000 be distributed as follows:

Funding Type

1937 Value

2005 Value

Assistance to Institutions

£5,000

$340,769

10 Junior Fellowships

£5,000

$340,769

5 Senior Fellowships

£5,000

$340,769

15 technicians

£5,000

$340,769

10 Part-time research groups

£2,500

$180,384

Grants for special investigations by departments

£5,000

$340,769

Incidental expenses

£2,500

$180,384

Total Funding Available

£30,000

$2,064,613

At the second session of the NHMRC in June 1937, the Council ratified the very first NHMRC research grant funding application form. A copy of that document is attached below.

Life and NHMRC administration were simpler back then - and no doubt today’s researchers would look with envy at the simplicity of the application in the pre-computer era.

Session reports from the time indicate that there were 63 applications made and 31 awards made, a success rate of 49%. The Department of Health in Western Australia was awarded £2,000 ($136,307) over two years for research into Leprosy. Two future Nobel Laureates also received funding in the inaugural 1937 NHMRC funding round — JC Eccles was awarded  £2,150 ($146,530) for a two year electrophysiology/neuromuscular research program and FM Burnet was awarded a £1,250 ($85,192) one year grant. The average grant size in 1937 was £728 ($40,963).

The advent of World War Two saw a reduction in funding to £20,000 in 1939, and it was not until 1966-67 that the first million dollar budget appropriation was allocated ($1.07 million, equivalent to $10 million in 2005).

NHMRC funding reached $10 million a decade later in 1976-77 (equivalent to $45 million in 2005) and by 1992-93 the NHMRC was investing more than $100 million ($138 million in 2005 dollars) in Australian health and medical research funding.

While NHMRC funding for health and medical research has accelerated in recent years to more than $630 million in 2007, the number of active NHMRC grants has also increased.

From the 31 grants awarded in 1937, the NHMRC administered 1460 active grants in 1992, 2,205 in 1998 and, in 2007; there are more than 3,400 active NHMRC research grants.

Disclaimer

The material contained on this site is made available to assist researchers, administering institutions and the general public in searching for NHMRC Grant funding information.

The Commonwealth accepts no liability for any interference with or damage to a user's computer system, software or data occurring through the download and/or usage of these data. Users are encouraged to take appropriate and adequate precautions to ensure that whatever is selected from this website is free of viruses or other contamination that may interfere with or damage the user's computer system, software or data.

Page last updated on 6 November 2014