Structural Review of NHMRC’s Grant Program

Under the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992, NHMRC administers the Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA) in order to provide assistance to institutions and people engaged in medical research and for medical research training.

NHMRC awards new grants worth around $800 million each year from the MREA. Expenditure of the MREA is spread across a variety of grant types, including Project Grants, Program Grants, Development Grants, Partnership Projects, a range of scholarships and fellowships, Centres of Research Excellence, Targeted Calls for Research and several collaborative schemes with international partners.

Feedback from the research sector has indicated 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.

To address these challenges, an over-arching review of NHMRC’s grant program has been undertaken to determine whether the suite of funding schemes can be streamlined and adapted to current circumstances, while continuing to support the best Australian research and researchers for the benefit of human health.

This Review followed on from the Fellowship Consultation conducted by NHMRC in 2015. A number of submissions to that consultation suggested there was a need for a strategic, whole-of-system review of NHMRC’s funding program.

The Review considered relevant overseas experience with medical research grant programs. NHMRC also considered feedback provided in response to its Fellowship Consultation.

Conduct of the review

The Review was conducted by the Office of NHMRC, reporting to the CEO. An Expert Advisory Group provided advice and assistance to NHMRC in examining the current grant program and possible alternative models. This Group was chaired by Professor Steve Wesselingh and was comprised of members with a variety of different experiences and perspectives. The membership of the Group is provided below.

The CEO has drawn on the advice of the Expert Advisory Group and NHMRC Research Committee, with additional advice from NHMRC Council, Health Translation Advisory Committee, Health Innovation Advisory Committee and the Principal Committee Indigenous Caucus.

External consultation was undertaken through a period of public consultation in July–August 2016 and targeted consultations in January–May 2017.

Outcome of the review

The CEO announced a new grant program on 25 May 2017. 

Membership of the Expert Advisory Group

  • Professor Steven Wesselingh (Chair)
  • Professor Philip Clarke
  • Professor Jonathan Craig
  • Professor Gemma Figtree
  • Ms Christine Gunson
  • Associate Professor Noel Hayman
  • Professor Doug Hilton
  • Professor Kathryn North
  • Professor Robyn Owens
  • Associate Professor Phoebe Phillips
  • Professor Rodney Phillips
  • Professor Robert Ramsay
  • Professor Debra Rickwood
  • Professor Melanie Wakefield

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