NHMRC Policy on the phase-out of block funding


Five of Australia's major medical research institutes are currently funded by NHMRC 'block grants': Baker Medical Research Institute (BMRI), Garvan Institute, Howard Florey Institute (HFI), Queensland Medical Research Institute (QIMR) and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI).

NHMRC will not offer further block-funding under the current policy. Institutes with current block grants may retain these grants, under current conditions, precedents and access policy, until the scheduled end of the grant.

This document sets out the policy for former block-funded institutes (BFIs) who elect to take up a Transitional Block Grant in order to join the reshaped NHMRC funding scheme.

All funding amounts in this policy are referenced to the funding provided to BFIs in the year 2000. An outturn figure (as advised by the Department of Finance and Administration) will be applied in future years (in 2000 this was 1.5%).

This policy is subject to final approval by the Executive of the NHMRC. Any unexpected issues that arise will be referred to the Block Funded Institutes Liaison Working Group (BFILWG) for interpretation in the light of the broad principles outlined in the policy below.


  1. Current block-funded institutes must inform NHMRC by 6pm on 25 July 2000, in writing signed by the Chair of the Board of Management and the Director, whether they wish to (i) retain current block grant under scheduled end of the quinquennium, or (ii) relinquish their block grants and enter the new Reshaped NHMRC funding schemes, through a transitional process as set out in this document.
  2. Upon formal indication of agreement to enter the new scheme, the block grant will be designated a Transitional Block Grant, with conditions in accord with the Transition Principles set out below. The base figure for the Transitional Block Grant shall be the year 2000 grant.
  3. All members of Block Funded Institutes as at 1 January 2000 (except those who were given access to NHMRC schemes in 2000) are covered by this Policy and must be considered by the Administrative Review process.
  4. An Administrative Review Panel will advise Research Committee of a timetable for phasing individual researchers and groups from block funded institutes into the wider research grant funding ("Reshaped") scheme. Institutes will need to make a submission to NHMRC by 30 August 2000 (the requirements of this submission are given below).
  5. Members of Institutes funded by a Transitional Block Grant will have access to all NHMRC funding schemes, in accord with NHMRC transitional arrangements. This will involve a progressive access to Research Support schemes as individual researchers and groups move from the Transitional Block Grant into the competitive grant funding round each year. The details of when each researcher, or research group, will be granted access will be determined by NHMRC following the Administrative Review of all institutes during 2000.
  6. Research Committee will consider the report of the administrative review and inform the institutes as soon as possible (before the end of October) on the expected specific transition arrangements.
  7. During the transition (which will commence on 26 July 2000) participating institutes will be subject to current block funding policy, except that:
    • All Fellows appointed by the NHMRC Fellowships Committee or internal Appointments and Promotion Committees (WEHI, HFI and BMRI) will continue as Fellows, for the duration of their appointments, in accordance with the current Conditions of Award.
    • Appointments and Promotions Committees at the WEHI, HFI and BMRI should consult with the NHMRC Fellowships Committee regarding their proposed 2000 appointments and promotions.
    • NHMRC Research Fellows at the WEHI, HFI and BMRI will be assessed for appointment, promotion and re-appointment within a single NHMRC Fellows scheme, through the same mechanisms as all other Fellows (beginning 1 January 2001).
    • The component covering NHMRC Fellows' salaries will be subtracted from the Transitional Block Grant prior to any calculations related to the transition phase (except the Institute Grant - see below).
    • Members of institutes may leave a block-funded institute, with appropriate support from the Transitional Block Grant. For NHMRC Fellows, this will be at a level of support consonant with support for Fellows in the Project Grants Fellowship scheme, at the median level of support for that category (these figures will be advised once the analysis is complete). For all other scientists at the institute at the time of the last quinquennial review, or appointed to NHMRC slots during the quinquennium, it will be an amount to be negotiated by the Institute and the researcher involved. Should the parties not be able to agree, the matter may be referred to the NHMRC for resolution.
    • Researchers outside institutes offered a position within any block-funded institute may join the institute without relinquishing their present support.
    • Researchers at the block funded institutes who were given access to NHMRC schemes in 2000 may continue to have access provided that they are not applying in conjunction with other researcher(s) in an Institute prior to their entry into the wider funding scheme.
    • Researchers joining Institutes on or after 26 July 2000 may apply for any relevant NHMRC funding scheme.
  8. During the transition, Research Committee will retain a Block Funded Institutes Liaison Working Group, to provide it with advice on all matters related to this Policy.

Administrative Review 2000

Institute Submission to NHMRC

The main purpose of the Administrative Review is to advise Research Committee on a detailed timetable for integration of Institute researchers into the wider NHMRC schemes.

The Administrative Review Panel will comprise three members who will review all institutes, and one member who will provide specific scientific expertise in the general research area of each institute.

Institutes are asked to submit the following material:

  1. Suggested timetable (2001 - 2003 grant rounds) for all researchers, as individuals or groups, into the wider NHMRC schemes. Institutes are asked to nominate approximately 1/3 of the block grant for each of those years (exclusive of Fellows' salaries - see above) .
  2. Accountability. Institutes are asked to provide material that indicates their achievements under the current block grant, and that will provide Research Committee with assurance that the ongoing Transitional Block Grant may be responsibly awarded to the Institute, beyond the scheduled end of any current block grant.

This material need not be exhaustive. An indicative requirement is:

  • A brief written summary of the main achievements of the institute during the current quinquennium (maximum 5 pages).
  • A list of publications during the current quinquennium (not required if included in the Institute's Annual report).
  • A list of any commercial developments, patents of other similar activities arising from the Institute during the quinquennium (brief details only needed. Institutes should contact the ONHMRC if Commercial in Confidence issues may be involved).
  • Financial Report of the Institute for the previous 5 years (not required if included in the Institute's Annual report).

Administrative Review Panel report to NHMRC

The Administrative Review Panel will report to Research Committee on the following:

  1. Recommended timing of all researchers at the Institute (singly or in groups, as negotiated) to applying for grant support.
  2. Recommended amounts by which the current block grant will decrease upon successful application (first year) or in absolute terms (second year).
  3. Achievements and performance of the Institute during the holding of the grant.

In making its recommendations to Research Committee, the Administrative Review Panel will take into consideration:

  1. The need to ensure a smooth and fair phasing of scientists out of current funding and into new funding.
  2. NHMRC forward financial projections, so as to ensure as fair as possible entry for Institute and non-Institute researchers.
  3. The wishes and recommendations of the Director and staff of each institute, as outlined in their submitted material and/or presented during the administrative review.
  4. Any other matter relevant to this policy.

Transition principles

  1. Institute researchers will progressively be given access to all NHMRC research grant schemes, under a timetable decided by RC, following receipt of the report of the Administrative Review Panel. NHMRC will solicit the views of the Institutes, in their written submissions to the Administrative Review, and this will be discussed directly with the Administrative Review Panel during their site visit.
  2. Block funded institutes and institute staff will immediately have access to:
  • All NHMRC funding schemes for which they are currently eligible.
  • All Schemes under the NHMRC National Research Capacity schemes.
  • All "People" schemes under Reshaping, including training awards and fellowships.
  1. Groups with support from the Transitional Block Grant will not be eligible to apply for Research Grant support (Type 1 or Type 2 grants under "Reshaping") until they enter the Open Competitive grant support scheme under the timetable as indicated above (1).
  2. Block funded institutes will be eligible for a "Transitional Institute Grant" under the following circumstances:
  • The total amount available will be set at 15% of the total for block funding in 2000 [(that is approximately $3.9m million (see Table 1).
  • This amount will be available on a competitive basis.
  • Each Institute will be guaranteed 5% of their 2000 block grant (see Table 1).
  • The Transitional Institute Grant will be for five years, unless voluntarily relinquished.
  • Research Committee will establish a review panel of national and international members to assess applications for the Transitional Institute Grant.
  • Each Institute may bid for as much of the available funds as it wishes (that is approximately $3.9 million minus approximately $1.3m (to cover the 5% guarantee) - see Table 1).
  1. Each researcher/group at the institute will have a double chance for initial research grant funding under the new scheme - i.e. each, having designated which type of grant he/she wishes to apply for (project or Program), will be able to retain the transitional grant funding (as a one-line to the Director) if they are unsuccessful at their first attempt to obtain research funding.
  2. NHMRC Fellows at all Institutes will apply to the NHMRC Fellowships Committee for renewal of their Fellowships (re-appointment or promotion), in accord with policies current at the time.
  3. Researchers joining current block funded institutes on and after 26 July 2000 will be eligible to apply for any research grant support, in accord with NHMRC rules for all other researchers (i.e. all except those supported by the Transitional Block Grant).

Purposes of the "Transitional Institute Grant" and application process

The "Transitional Institute Grant" is available for institutes undergoing transition from block funding to the NHMRC "Reshaped" funding scheme. It is expected that during this triennium Research Committee will discuss schemes for encouraging further clustering of the national research effort and development of critical mass.

The purposes of the Transitional Institute Grant are:

  • To stimulate capacity of the Institutes to extend their leadership to support and enhance the national research effort.
  • To encourage collaboration and broadening of the national research base.

Only the current block funded institutes that agree to accept the transitional provisions for block funding may apply for the Transitional Institute Grant. The grants will be awarded on the basis of how well the application addresses these broad purposes, including the following specific criteria:

  • Importance of the health or research area
  • International competitiveness of the proposal
  • Contribution to internationalisation of Australian health research
  • Contribution to the development of new skills and/or technology to benefit Australian health research.
  • Track record:
  • Ability to attract to Australia leading researchers and research managers
  • Leverage of NHMRC support and indication of how the Institute grant will further aid leverage.
  • Enhancement of collaboration and interaction with industry, and contribution to growth of knowledge based industries in Australia.
  • Enhancement of collaboration of the Institute with other Australian health research.

Applications for the Institute Grant will close on 31 March 2001, and the award will run from 1 January 2002 for 5 years.

Research Committee will consider during the 2000-2002 triennium how best to meet the aims of the Wills report (Chapter 2 - see Attachment 1), the Government and NHMRC responses to the Report, the 1999 Federal Budget papers, and the agreed Performance Indicators ("Outcome 9"), in relation to block funding, clustering of research, building internationally competitive critical mass and building of professional research management. It is also expected that the Strategic Plan of the incoming Council will identify research infrastructure as a major issue for the triennium.

Table 1

2000 Grant 1




$ 3,526,126

$ 176,306


$ 3,914,122

$ 195,706


$ 8,622,500

$ 431,125


$ 4,439,407

$ 221,970


$ 5,093,653

$ 254,683


$ 1,279,790

$ 3,839,371

1 Source 2000 Grant Book

Attachment 1


R2.1.1 Reinforce individual investigator-initiated, peer-reviewed research, appropriately fund competitively selected research projects, and remove barriers to mobility of researchers and their funding between institutions, including block-funded institutes



  • Develop ongoing programs to promote investigator-initiated, peer-reviewed research to stakeholders as the best approach for fundamental research.


  • Appropriately fund research projects to cover average salaries and conditions negotiated through enterprise bargaining at host institutions including redundancy, and infrastructure (See Section 5.3).

NHMRC, ARC, other funding bodies incl State/Area Health Authorities

  • Facilitate portability of fellowships and project and program grants in and out of institutions including block-funded institutes.


  • Restructure block-funding arrangements by increasing effective competition for a component of funds received by these institutions and reviewing JCSMR arrangements.


R2.1.2 Where appropriate, encourage larger, multi-disciplinary, investigator-initiated projects, research programs and networks



  • Direct real increases in government investment (See Section 5.3) into larger projects and more programs, employing a variety of grant sizes and durations as appropriate for high impact research across all fields.

NHMRC, other funding bodies

  • Extend usual project grant duration from three to five years over a period of time.


  • Create a portfolio of Network Grants, as proposed by the Research Committee, to promote cross-disciplinary collaboration and consider an equivalent to ARC's SPIRT scheme for collaboration with industry.


  • Develop mechanisms to fund research such as cohort studies that require long-term funding commitment.

NHMRC, other funding bodies

R2.1.4 Create incentives for researchers and groups to come together with stronger management and governance and to strengthen links with teaching and patient care



  • Facilitate research units and institutions to find potential partners with whom to interact regularly and share infrastructure, fund raising, management and governance.


  • Allocate new, short-term funding by a competitive process to introduce or build professional management in a number of research groups, preferably covering a variety of organisational forms, including virtual institutes, with at least 150 or more research staff.


  • Develop explicit plans and coordinating mechanisms to strengthen links between centres of research excellence and centres of teaching and health care practice.

Institutes, State/Area Health Authorities, Universities and NHMRC