NHMRC recognises that uncertainty about the trajectory and ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to affect many in Australia’s health and medical research community including NHMRC grant applicants and recipients and members of NHMRC Peer Review Panels.

Messages from the CEO to the health and medical research sector in 2020 can be found by searching under News Type ‘Communique’ in the NHMRC news centre:

The CEO released a message earlier this year on Changes to Peer Review Processes for the Ideas Grant scheme in 2021 (25 February 2021). 

Frequently asked questions

These FAQs are intended to address frequently asked questions from NHMRC stakeholders about the effects and ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on applications for NHMRC funding, peer review, grant management and other NHMRC processes. 

NHMRC will continue to monitor grant variation requests and will update the Frequently Asked Questions below in response to questions received from the sector. 

Information has been ‘reviewed’ (no change) or ‘updated’ as at the date indicated for each response.

Grant applications (updated July 2021)


  • Will NHMRC accept late grant applications from applicants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? 
  • What is NHMRC doing to support researchers who request extensions to application deadlines due to extenuating circumstances? 

Answers (updated July 2021):

RAOs must submit all requests for application extensions via email to help@nhmrc.gov.au before the scheme close date and time. Any requests for extension must detail how the applicant is impacted, and why they are unable to submit their application by the specified due date. Noting that extension requests will only be considered for:

  • unforeseen circumstances beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic, e.g. natural calamities such as bushfires, floods or cyclones, or 
  • exceptional circumstances that affect multiple researchers, e.g. power and/or internet network outages, or 
  • where an applicant, or a member of their immediate family, is incapacitated due to a sudden or an unforeseen medical emergency, such as life-threatening illness, accident or death.

Extensions, if granted, will be for a maximum of seven calendar days. This is to ensure that subsequent peer review processes and approval of funding recommendations are not delayed, especially as eligibility decisions for some NHMRC schemes depend on an applicant's success with other schemes.

Requests for extension submitted after the scheme close date and time will not be considered.

Peer Review Panel meetings (updated July 2021)


  • As a consequence of travel restrictions I am unable to travel to a Peer Review Panel at NHMRC. What should I do?
  • Will the COVID-19 pandemic affect NHMRC’s peer review processes?

Answers (updated July 2021):

NHMRC is seeking to minimise travel wherever possible, given the importance of social distancing, the quarantine provisions that may be in place in various jurisdictions, and the relative ease of conducting most business by video.

Any questions about travel, video or teleconferencing should be directed to the relevant panel secretariat.

Several major schemes no longer hold grant review panel meetings. Changes to the 2021 Ideas Grant scheme peer review process for 2021 were outlined by the NHMRC CEO on 25 February 2021.

Where meetings are held, arrangements will consider current circumstances to determine in person or virtual meetings (in part or in full).

Postaward Grant Management 


  • Can variations to grants still be requested due to impacts on research activity from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answer (reviewed July 2021):

NHMRC recognises that the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to affect Australia’s health and medical research community, including NHMRC grant recipients. If you have received a grant and you have been or continue to be affected you can apply to vary your grant.  

Refer to the Grantee Variation Policy to identify the appropriate variation type to suit the particular circumstance. Variations that may be relevant due to ongoing impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  1. Deferral of commencement date
  2. Deferral of an in-progress grant and extended leave requests
  3. Extended end date
  4. Change to a research plan
  5. Change to chief investigators.

Researchers should work with their Administering Institution’s Research Administration Officers (RAOs) as the first point of contact for all grant administration matters.
NHMRC will seek to accommodate all reasonable requests for variation with an emphasis on keeping research teams intact and supporting the NHMRC-funded research workforce where possible.

Defer an in-progress grant variation


  • Will the ‘defer in-progress’ grant variation type always result in an extension to the grant end date? 

Answer (reviewed July 2021):

The end date won’t always automatically be extended with a variation. There may be some specific scheme requirements where the end date won’t change. Such as, for Investigator Grants there are limited circumstances where the end date will be extended. 

Note that for Investigator Grants, the ‘defer in-progress’ variation type would be used and CIs will need to specify if both salary and Research Support Package (RSP) or just salary is to be suspended for the deferment period. If suspending both salary and RSP then the end date will be extended.

Extensions to a grant


  • What happens if I need to request an extension to my grant? Will that effect my eligibility to apply for future funding?

Answer (updated July 2021):

If an extension is required due to COVID-19 related delays the type of variation used will depend on the stage of the research activity. Please refer to the Grantee Variation Policy and the grant guidelines / funding rules that applied at the time of application and acceptance of the grant. 

When considering variations that may take the end date of an existing grant beyond the end of the calendar year it may cause asynchrony with other future NHMRC grant opportunities. For example, Investigator Grant eligibility considers the end date of grants already held by the applicant.

It’s important that the CIA obtain agreement of all CIs (CIA – CIJ) prior to the variation request, particularly where the variation may impact on their grant profile and eligibility for future grant applications.

The impact of grant variations on grant payments


  • Will NHMRC payments be suspended for the period of deferral or period of extended leave? 

Answer (reviewed July 2021):

NHMRC generally does not make budget adjustments, or changes to payment schedules, at the time of variation unless required under the specific grant guidelines / funding rules for that particular grant. It is the Administering Institution’s responsibility to manage grant expenditure relevant to the research activity funded under the Schedule, including where some components of the research continue while others may be delayed. 

Investigator Grant budgets


  • What impact will an extension to an existing grant, for example a Project Grant, have on an already awarded Investigator Grant budget? 

Answer (reviewed July 2021):

For Investigator Grants the total grant value, including RSP reductions, is calculated based on the portfolio of grants an applicant holds at the grant variation census date in the guidelines. This includes the existing overlaps/variations in place at that time. 

Once an Investigator Grant is awarded there will be no change to the Investigator Grants RSP amounts awarded. The Category, Level and RSP of the grant will apply for the duration of the grant.

When and how COVID-19 variation requests are submitted


  • What variation or method of notifying NHMRC should be used to request a grant variation?

Answer (updated July 2021):

All variation requests are to be submitted prior to the current end date. For an efficient and transparent process researchers must consult with their RAOs, who liaise and negotiate variation requests with NHMRC as a result of COVID-19. If RAOs have any questions about grant variations please contact: Postaward.management@nhmrc.gov.au.
Note: A defer commencement variation can only be requested if payment/s have not started on the grant. Where payments have already been made on a grant a ‘defer in-progress’ or ‘extended leave’ variation request should be used. 

Although NHMRC prefers individual variation requests to be submitted through RGMS, where multiple research activities may require variations in these exceptional circumstances NHMRC will consider bulk requests in consultation with the Administering Institution. RAOs should email Postaward.management@nhmrc.gov.au to request a bulk variation.

Use of NHMRC specific category funding during COVID-19


  • COVID-19 travel restrictions prevent TRIP Fellows from expending Professional Development Allowance prior to the grant end date. Can funds be used for other purposes?
  • Where a TRIP Fellow either suspends or extends due to COVID, predominately to complete the professional development activities before wrapping up the fellowship activities, will they be required to be a 0.5FTE TRIP fellow during the extension?
  • During the no-cost extension period (where salary component has been fully spent), is the TRIP Fellow’s health care employer still expected to fund the balance of the applicant’s time as indicated in the application and the Fellow must continue to devote the same FTE to the fellowship? 
  • [NEW] Can funding received as a FIIRN (Facilitate International Indigenous Researcher Networks) supplement be reallocated for other research use due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international travel?

Answer (updated July 2021):

NHMRC is aware of the challenges the COVID-19 situation has created for researchers, particularly in terms of the many changes to the way training and development opportunities have been offered as a result of COVID-19, its impacts on the capacity to travel and engage in international exchange and collaboration activities. 

In exceptional circumstances, NHMRC will consider up to 12 month ‘Extend End Date’ variation requests to enable TRIP Fellows to expend Professional Development Funds at a later date. In this circumstance, an extension will be provided without the expectation that the researcher will maintain 0.5 FTE allocated to the TRIP fellowship research for the duration of the extension. TRIP fellows are required to combine their research translation project effectively with their career. The expectation would remain that the Fellow’s health care employer would continue to support the TRIP fellow to allow reasonable time allocation to complete TRIP Fellowship related activities.

Even if a TRIP Fellow was unable to travel NHMRC anticipates it should still have been possible to expend these funds as intended in the budget.  

NHMRC will consider alternative uses of FIIRN supplement funding for Investigator Grants and Early Career Fellowships on a case-by-case basis. Where recipients of FIIRN funding have been unable to use the funds for the travel and collaborative activities that were outlined in their grant applications they should speak with their RAO about requesting agreement to alternative use of the funds, for example, registration costs for virtual / online conferences or costs associated with the development of alternative engagement platforms, media or content. 

Requests for alternative use are to demonstrate how the use meets the intended purpose of the funding as stated under the respective Grant Guidelines. For FIIRN supplements, for the purpose of facilitating international mentoring and collaborative linkages that support improvements to the health of Indigenous people and for TRIP Fellows, for the purpose of professional development.

Co-contributions impacted by COVID-19


  • Can you provide advice regarding co-contributions impacted by COVID-19?

Answer (reviewed July 2021):   

NHMRC recognises that COVID-19 may impact on partner contributions as committed at time of application for Partnership Projects and are taking a flexible approach on responding to the needs of the sector. We understand that the exceptional circumstances may have delayed partner payments and changed contributions available.  

Where a partner’s contribution has been postponed the expectation is that contributions will be achieved prior to the project completion. 

A Change of Research Plan variation may be required where financial impacts result in an adjustment to the research plan to deal with this situation, including where a Partner Organisation withdrawn, reduced or changed their contribution. Refer to the Grantee Variations Policy to confirm when this variation type is required. The Change in Research Plan is to include a detailed explanation on the contribution/s, whether it has been a delay or will no longer be available, and the consequent effect on the grant relevant to the original proposal and outcomes of the research project. 

Change of Research Plan variation requests will be assessed case-by-case taking into consideration the exceptional circumstances.

Reporting requirements


  • Is NHMRC providing any additional time to meet reporting requirements? 

Answer (reviewed July 2021):

To assist researchers and research administrators with managing reporting obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic, NHMRC will consider requests on a case-by-case basis. 

Impact of extending existing NHMRC grants on Investigator Grants


  • Can existing NHMRC grants be extended if the Investigator is awarded an Investigator Grant? If so, what is the impact of extending Project Grants on the newly awarded Investigator Grants RSP amounts?

Answer (updated July 2021): 

Existing NHMRC fellows and Investigators can apply to extend their existing NHMRC grants in accordance with the relevant Funding Rules and Grantee Variations Policy

For Investigator Grants the total grant value, including RSP reductions, is calculated based on the portfolio of grants an applicant holds at the grant variation census date in the guidelines. For the 2021 Investigator Grant round (formerly census date) this was 1 June 2021.  (The Investigator Grants 2020 census date was 3 February 2020.) This includes the existing overlaps/variations in place at that time. Where the extension increases the period of overlap of projects, once an Investigator Grant is awarded there will be no change to the Investigator Grants RSP amounts awarded. The Category, Level and RSP of the grant will apply for the duration of the grant.

Variation to time commitment for Investigator Grants


  • Can variations to FTE be requested for full-time and part-time Investigator Grants and what evidence is required? 

Answer (reviewed July 2021):

Requests to adjust a grant recipient’s time commitment will be considered by NHMRC on a case-by-case basis. If the request is approved, then the Investigator Grant duration will remain at five years.

These variation requests will be determined with reference to the grant opportunity guidelines under which the grant was applied for, e.g. whether FTE changes are allowed for professional and/or personal reasons and must have the support of the Administering Institution.

Evidence supporting variation requests is to be provided to the RAO at time of request and is to be retained by the Administering Institution. Evidence is to confirm and support professional reasons or that Investigator Grant recipient’s requested FTE is for circumstances defined as a career disruption(s) as relevant to the type of part-time Investigator Grant held. The Administering Institution is to provide this evidence to NHMRC if requested.

For each of the categories the time commitment is calculated against a full time equivalent (noting the thresholds within the guidelines). For example, for professional part-time recipients the combination of professional and research activities would equal 100% of their paid working week (noting the thresholds within the guidelines); and for personal part-time recipients their combined research and personal responsibilities would also equate to a full working week for the researcher. 

For full details on variation to time commitments as outlined below refer to Sections 3.3 and 10.8.4 of the Investigator Grant Guidelines.

Professional Part-Time Investigator Grants

  • Professional Part-Time Investigator Grants are to be held part-time, at the indicated FTE, for the duration of the grant. They cannot be converted to a full-time grant. 
  • Personal Part-Time Investigator Grants 
  • Personal Part-Time Investigator Grants are available for 0.2 to 0.8 FTE over five years and fund the amount of time allocated to research. The value of the salary will be adjusted pro rata. Applications for personal part-time FTE must be supported by their employer. 
  • Personal Part-time Investigator Grants are intended to be part-time at the requested FTE for the duration of the grant. Recipients of a Personal Part-Time Investigator Grant may request to increase their time commitment and convert to full-time salary for personal reasons. 
  • Personal Part-time Investigator Grants recipients may request to increase their time commitment and convert to full-time salary for personal reasons, such as changes in carer responsibility or recovery from an illness or major injury. Requests to convert to full-time will be considered by NHMRC on a case-by-case basis and must have the support of the Investigator Grant recipient’s Administering Institution. 
  • Where a request to convert or return to full-time is approved, the salary component of the Investigator Grant will be increased to the full-time amount for the remaining duration of the grant, however the value of the RSP will be unchanged.

Full-time Investigator Grants

  • Full-time Investigator Grant recipients may apply to undertake a period of their grant on a part-time basis for a period(s) of defined career disruption or to enable recipients to conduct research while maintaining other professional activity. 
  • If a request to reduce to a part-time commitment is approved by NHMRC, the salary component of the Investigator Grant will be reduced pro rata. The researcher may retain 100% of their RSP or reduce it in proportion to the requested part-time rate. 

Investigator Grants, Defer on Commencement 


  • If a recently awarded Emerging Leadership Fellow has been offered a place in industry for 12 months, can they defer the commencement date of the Investigator Grant by 12 months.

Answer (reviewed July 2021): 

Investigator Grants are expected to commence on 1 January of the year immediately after the peer review of applications to the round concludes. Where an Investigator Grant recipient is unable to meet this requirement, the Administering Institution must submit a variation to defer the commencement date (see Investigator Grants 2020 Guidelines - section 12.1). Grant recipients should note that deferments of less than 12 months will cause asynchrony with the scheme and potentially affect eligibility for subsequent funding rounds (refer to section 10.8.1 of the Investigator Grants 2020 Guidelines).

Where an Investigator Grant commencement is deferred, the awarded value or budget breakdown value will remain the same. The budget allocation will be adjusted so that the budget for the deferred period at the beginning of the grant is taken from year 1 and added to the new final year of the grant. That is, the funding value will remain the same as if the grant had commenced as planned (prior to deferment) with the addition of indexation each year on 1 January. 

A defer commencement date variation is to be requested prior to the commencement date and can only be processed where payments against the grant have not yet commenced, NHMRC may approve variations to defer commencement date up to 12 calendar months in total. Examples of circumstances where this variation may be approved:

  • institutional approvals needed at the commencement date are not in place 
  • the Chief Investigator A has a contractual obligation that cannot be met in time to meet the Schedule commencement date 
  • key personnel are taking up a temporary position in industry that will support building Australia’s research capacity and/or temporarily holds an ‘Other Appointment’ (or similar)
  • there are visa issues affecting overseas relocation for Emerging Leadership Investigator Grants 
  • there are family-related or personal reasons, including reasons related to the birth and care of children 
  • there has been a delay in recruiting key staff 
  • there has been a delay in establishing arrangements with Participating Institutions. 

If the grant has already commenced then an alternate variation type would need to be considered. Further information on variations is available in the NHMRC Grantee Variations Policy.  Variation requests exceeding 12 calendar months from the original commencement date will only be considered in exceptional circumstances. 

Early Career Fellowships with COVID-19 related delays to final activities 


  • Where an Early Career Fellow has fully spent the salary component of the fellowship but their projects have been delayed due to COVID-19 and the fellow would like extra time to complete the studies and apply for a no-cost extension, the university providing the salary for the fellow for the additional period, may need to be employed in a different capacity/position eg. a 0.5 FTE research – 0.5 FTE teaching position instead during this additional extended period. 

Answer (reviewed July 2021): 

An extension to the end date is allowable for up to 12 months under the Grantee Variations Policy under normal circumstances. In exceptional circumstances, requests for additional time and variations not specifically listed in the Grantee Variation Policy are considered case-by-case against the overarching principles in the policy. 

Where the impacts of COVID-19 requires an ECF to be employed in a different capacity/position, and delayed the progress of research this would be considered as an exceptional circumstance

It would be expected that the Grant Guidelines / Funding Rules be followed so as to continue to support the ECF researcher’s time in order to achieve the outcomes of the funded research activity. In circumstances where the remaining non-research Fellowship time can’t be spent on activities directly related to the research under the Fellowship due to COVID-19, consideration would be given to requests for variation to allow alternative activities to be undertaken in the non-research component.

For example, requests to reduce FTE to allow an ECF to work part-time in a teaching position, or as a medical or health professional practitioner ordinarily not allowed under the funding rules, will be considered allowable by NHMRC. The request must be supported by both the Fellow’s Administering Institution and Supervisor and demonstrate that the change in employment is a result of COVID-19/exceptional circumstance.  

General project delays and disruptions


  • My NHMRC-funded research has been and/or will be disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is NHMRC’s policy on variations as a result?
  • Will NHMRC allow project extensions due to delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What if my project needs to be postponed or delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic? How long a delay is acceptable before we have to relinquish the grant?
  • What should I do if travel to a research site is hindered due to travel restrictions that are in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answers (updated July 2021):

For Researchers

If you have received a grant and circumstances have changed – for example, there has been a delay in your Research Activity because of your involvement in the clinical or public health response to COVID-19 – you can apply to vary your grant. NHMRC’s Grantee Variation Policy provides information on grant variation types and their duration and is available at: Vary your grant.

Variations that may be relevant due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak include: Deferral of commencement date; Deferral of an in-progress grant and extended leave requests; Extended end date; Change to a research plan; and Change in Full-Time Equivalent (People Support Schemes only).

Please work with your Administering Institution’s Research Administration Officers (RAOs) as your first point of contact for all grant administration matters. 

Noting the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, NHMRC will seek to accommodate all reasonable requests for variation with an emphasis on keeping research teams intact and supporting the NHMRC-funded research workforce where possible. This will help research to move ahead as quickly as possible during and post pandemic.

For RAOs

NHMRC will take the exceptional circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic into account when considering compliance with grant variation and other reporting requirements.

As the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to lead to an increased volume of variation requests, NHMRC recognises that it may not always be possible to submit one month prior to the proposed date of effect.  

NHMRC will work with Administering Institutions case by case to resolve any issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide more flexibility in processing grant variations, such as considering longer extension durations if required, and considering retrospective requests for variations as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

If RAOs have any questions about grant variations after reviewing the Grantee Variation Policy, please contact: Postaward.management@nhmrc.gov.au

Transfer Acquittal Statements will remain due 28 days after the approved date of Transfer variation, or for retrospective Transfer variation requests, 28 days from the date of approval of the variation by NHMRC to avoid problems with annual financial statements reporting.

Planned project-related travel 


  • The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to impact on travel, meetings and/or exchange of personnel associated with my research project. What should I do?

Answers: (reviewed July 2021)

Official Australian Government advice is updated daily and can be accessed at: Department of Health.
Travel advice that can be used to inform travel decisions is available here: SmartTraveller Official Australian Government health advice relevant to holding meetings is available here: Department of Health.

NHMRC recognises that some of the circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic could warrant a grant variation under NHMRC’s Grantee Variation Policy. More details are available at: Vary your grant.

Applicants should contact RAOs in the first instance if they have any queries about the policy or to submit a grant variation. If RAOs have any questions about grant variations please contact: Postaward.management@nhmrc.gov.au.

Travel-related costs


  • For grant-related travel that has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, can associated non-refundable costs (e.g. airline tickets, conference registration, hotel costs) be charged to the grant? 
  • If air travel is cancelled by an airline, what should a grant recipient do if the airline provides a one-year voucher in lieu of a refund?
  • Who do I contact regarding the impact to my NHMRC award when my NHMRC-funded travel has been cancelled?

Answers: (reviewed July 2021)

Please review the particular NHMRC scheme Grant Guidelines and the Direct Research Cost Guidelines to see whether travel and/or conference expenditure incurred is allowed within an NHMRC grant budget.

Applicants should contact RAOs in the first instance if they have any queries about matters such as travel vouchers, or grant variations required due to cancelled/changed travel arrangements. 

RAOs please note: Administering Institutions should keep travel credits and not charge them against the NHMRC budget unless it is clear that the voucher will be able to be used for the project.

RAOs who have questions about travel-related costs should contact: Postaward.management@nhmrc.gov.au.

Re-focusing existing research on COVID-19


  • Can NHMRC provide permission to re-focus existing grants on COVID-19, where this is possible?

Answers: (reviewed July 2021)

NHMRC recognises that the exceptional circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic could warrant a grant variation, including changes to a research plan, under NHMRC’s Grantee Variation Policy. NHMRC supports researchers’ involvement in the response to COVID-19 and notes that in some cases this might result in changes to the direction of NHMRC-funded research.

More details on grant variations are available at: Vary your grant.

Clinical trials and cohort studies


  • Has the Australian Government issued any advice about clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What should I do if delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic have caused low subject-enrolment that could affect the progress of my research? How do I notify NHMRC?
  • My institution conducts clinical trials/ cohort studies/human subject studies and has experienced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What should we do?
  • My institution conducts clinical trials and/or cohort studies and has arranged alternative strategies to conduct participant study visits. Will NHMRC support unanticipated costs associated with alternative study visit strategies necessary to maintain the health and safety of study participants and the continuity of the trial/ cohort study?

Answers: (reviewed July 2021)

The Australian Government has released a statement: COVID-19: Guidance on clinical trials for institutions, HRECs, researchers and sponsors: COVID-19 impacts.

NHMRC recognises that some of the circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic could present risks to patients and the success of the trials/cohort studies themselves. This may include delays to recruitment of subjects, changes to treatments, additional care provided to subjects, availability of staff to deliver services, and/or availability of those who are being actively followed up in the studies. 

These changes should be documented through a grant variation under NHMRC’s Grantee Variation Policy. More details are available at: Vary your grant

Unanticipated costs arising within Research Activities funded by Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies grants can be attributed to the grant in accordance with the Direct Research Costs Guidelines.

Researchers should contact their RAO in the first instance to discuss options if there has been an impact on their NHMRC-funded research. If RAOs have any questions about grant variations please contact: Postaward.management@nhmrc.gov.au.  
Personal and career disruptions


  • What if I am a researcher involved in the clinical and public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic who is unable to proceed with my usual research activities and/or work on grant applications or assist with peer review?
  • What if I have caring responsibilities and my research work will be affected by school closures and/or illness in vulnerable family members?
  • What if I am a teaching and research academic who is now undertaking extra work to transform my teaching activities into online formats?
  • Will NHMRC consider disruptions (such as closing down recruitment of clinical cohorts, restricted collaborator and services access) caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as career disruptions and ‘relative to opportunity’ impacts?

Answers: (reviewed July 2021)

COVID-19 pandemic impacts would be considered as career disruptions or other relative to opportunity considerations under the provisions of NHMRC’s Relative to Opportunity Policy: NHMRC Relative to Opportunity policy.

NHMRC recognises the differing individual circumstances of its current grant holders. Changes to full-time equivalent arrangements are allowed in various NHMRC scheme Grant Guidelines. NHMRC’s Grantee Variation Policy is available at: Vary your grant.