Professor Anne Kelso AO
CEO, National Health and Medical Research Council
4 August 2020

NHMRC has changed the timing of the 2021 Investigator Grant and Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies schemes. NHMRC has also changed its Relative to Opportunity policy to accommodate the impacts of COVID-19 on research.

NHMRC is aware that all researchers and support staff continue to be affected, to varying degrees, by the COVID-19 pandemic. These effects include interruptions to research activities, increased workloads for front-line health care workers and public health researchers and increased caring responsibilities, particularly for those based in Victoria.

The following changes have been made in response to these impacts.

2021 grant schedule

In consultation with Research Committee, NHMRC has adjusted dates for the 2021 grant program:

  • to provide applicants with as much time as possible to plan and prepare applications for the next round of funding, and
  • to avoid scheduling clashes as a result of delays to the Ideas Grant and Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies (CTCS) Grant schemes in 2020 (CEO Communique 27 March).

The revised 2021 schedule aims to: 

  • minimise disruption by only making essential changes
  • avoid the scheduling clashes caused by delays to the 2020 Ideas and CTCS Grant rounds
  • wherever possible, limit overlap with national school holidays, the Christmas/ New Year break and traditional conference periods
  • harmonise key dates with the Australian Research Council 2021 schedule to spread the load on RAOs and applicants to both agencies.
Scheme Change Application period*
*Exact dates will be finalised later this year in consultation with RAOs and the ARC.
2021 CTCS Grants Delayed July–August 2021
2021 Ideas Grants None March–April 2021
2021 Investigator Grants Delayed February–March 2021
2021 Synergy Grants None February–March 2021
2021 Postgraduate Scholarships None April–May 2021

The 2020 CTCS Grant round was delayed for 7 months to accommodate the impact of COVID-19 on researchers involved in the clinical and public health response to the pandemic. The revised schedule should ensure that applicants know the outcomes of the 2020 round before applications close for the 2021 round.

The delay to the 2021 Investigator Grant round means that outcomes of this round will not be known before applications close for the 2021 Ideas Grant round. Therefore, because of the capping rules, researchers who apply to both schemes will have their 2021 Ideas Grant application(s) removed from consideration if they are successful in obtaining a 2021 Investigator Grant. This situation is not ideal and NHMRC will seek to separate the two schemes in future years. In view of the continued lockdown in some regions, however, it is hoped that the delayed closing date for the 2021 Investigator Grant round (March 2021 instead of November 2020) will ensure that all those who wish to apply will have the opportunity to do so.

Relative to Opportunity policy and application assessment

NHMRC has updated its Relative to Opportunity policy and peer review processes to recognise the impacts of COVID-19 on Australia’s health and medical research community.

For applicants

The Relative to Opportunity policy now specifies that circumstances associated with the pandemic and other calamities will be considered, where applicable, in assessment of an applicant’s track record. For schemes in which track record is assessed, applicants will have the opportunity to describe the interruption and its impact on their research productivity.

Applicants may also include information on potential significant and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their proposed research, and plans for managing these risks, as part of their research proposal.

For peer reviewers

Peer reviewers will be advised to take COVID-19-related circumstances into consideration as part of their assessment of track record relative to opportunity.

Research proposals will be assessed independently of the potential impacts the pandemic may have on the research (for example, assessment of feasibility), as any delays or impacts will be managed through NHMRC's postaward management and grant variation processes.