NHMRC recognises that the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting many in Australia’s health and medical research community including NHMRC grant applicants and recipients and members of NHMRC Peer Review Panels.

NHMRC released two messages on changes following the impact of COVID-19:

Message from the CEO to the health and medical research sector (19 March 2020).

Update – Changes to NHMRC 2020 Funding Schemes (27 March 2020).
 

NHMRC-funded researchers including clinicians

If you have received a grant and circumstances have changed - for example, there has been a delay in your Research Activity because of involvement in the clinical or public health response - you can apply to vary your grant. We understand the need to be flexible in these uncertain times.

Please work with your Administering Institution’s Research Administration Officers (RAOs) as your first point of contact for all grant administration matters. Variations that may be relevant due to the impact of COVID-19 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.

More details are available on the 'Vary your grant' page.

If Administering Institutions are unable to complete and submit any grant reports, grant variation requests, or acceptance of grant offers, please contact Postaward.management@nhmrc.gov.au.  

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

Current Grant Rounds

NHMRC has received requests for extensions from applicants to current rounds and is considering how we can accommodate and minimise impacts on peer review processes and timing of outcomes. We will update the Frequently Asked Questions below with advice on this issue as the situation unfolds.

Peer Review Processes

As part of the peer review process NHMRC usually hosts a number of face to face Grant Review Panel meetings. During the COVID-19 pandemic NHMRC will be holding any necessary meetings by video or teleconference. Peer reviewers impacted will be contacted directly by NHMRC staff to let you know the new arrangements.

On 13 May 2020 NHMRC announced the changes to peer review processes for the Ideas Grant scheme in 2020.

Guidance on clinical trials for institutions, HRECs, researchers and sponsors

COVID-19: Guidance on clinical trials for institutions, HRECs, researchers and sponsors is a joint statement that reflects the shared views of all state and territory Departments of Health, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), NHMRC and the Clinical Trials Project Reference Group (CTPRG), of which all of these entities are members.

This guidance was released on 24 March 2020, is published below in the Downloads section and on the Department of Health’s website

It provides general information and advice to institutions conducting or overseeing research, Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs), researchers and sponsors in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is directed towards those involved in clinical trial research and other relevant clinical research, but also may be of use to institutions, HRECs and researchers in other fields.

The advice represents current thinking and best practice at the government level and will be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect changes in government policy, public health advice and the needs of those conducting and participating in clinical research in Australia.

Research involving animals

NHMRC recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic may be affecting research involving animals, including delays to existing research projects, or new research relating to the pandemic that proposes to use animals. For advice released on 31 March about research involving animals, visit the animal ethics page.

Frequently asked questions

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

Note: As the COVID-19 outbreak and associated impacts continue to evolve, grant applicants and recipients are strongly encouraged to monitor this website for updates. NHMRC will review frequently and advice may change if there is a significant change in circumstances or additional clarifications are required.

Grant applications

Questions:

  • Will NHMRC accept late grant applications from applicants affected by the COVID-19 outbreak? 
  • If I receive an extension to an existing grant, will this affect my eligibility to apply for grants in current rounds? 
  • What is NHMRC doing to support researchers who request extensions to application deadlines due to extenuating circumstances?

Answers (updated 13 May 2020):

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, NHMRC has announced some changes to the application deadlines for a number of its grant schemes. Further information is available here: Update – Changes to NHMRC 2020 Funding Schemes

For currently open rounds, there is a section in all NHMRC scheme guidelines on application extensions (e.g. Section 7.2 in the 2020 Ideas Grant Guidelines). 

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 there have already been significant changes to deadlines for the Ideas Grant and Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies (CTCS) Grant schemes, aadditional 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.

Normally, extensions to existing grants only impact eligibility to apply for future grants if the extension pushes the grant end date beyond the final year and into the next calendar year. The final year of a research activity is considered to be the calendar year (i.e. between 1 January and 31 December) within which the research activity is completed.

The effect on eligibility of extensions that do push the grant end date beyond the final year is currently being considered and advice will be provided here and in the relevant scheme guidelines when it is finalised.

Information on amended eligibility requirements for 2020 Ideas Grant applicants due to COVID-19, can be found here.

Peer Review Panel and Principal Committee meetings

Questions:

  • 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 outbreak affect NHMRC’s peer review processes?

Answers (updated 13 May 2020):

NHMRC is seeking to avoid the need for any travel wherever possible, given the importance of social isolation, the quarantine provisions in place in various jurisdictions, and the relative ease of conducting most business by video.

All panel meetings scheduled between now and 31 May 2020 will be undertaken by video or teleconference or are in the process of being cancelled. Meetings after May are also being reviewed.

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

NHMRC is reviewing its peer review processes for the 2020 round because of the special circumstances. Key considerations are outlined here: Message from the CEO to the health and medical research sector. Further information on the changes to peer review processes for the 2020 Ideas Grants round is available here.

Postaward Grant Management 

Question:

  • Variations available

Answer (added 7 July 2020):

NHMRC recognises that COVID-19 is affecting many in Australia’s health and medical research community, including NHMRC grant recipients. If circumstances have changed since receiving a grant you can apply to vary your grant. 

Refer to the Grantee Variation Policy to identify the appropriate variation type to suit the particular circumstance.

Researchers should work with their Administering Institution’s Research Administration Officers (RAOs) as the first point of contact for all grant administration matters.

Noting the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak, 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

Question:

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

Answer (added 7 July 2020):

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

Question:

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

Answer (added 7 July 2020):

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

Question:

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

Answer (added 7 July 2020):

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

Question:

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

Answer (added 7 July 2020):

For Investigator Grants the total grant value, including RSP reductions, was calculated based on the portfolio of grants an applicant held at time of application. 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

Question:

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

Answer (added 7 July 2020):

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

Question:

  • 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?

Answer (added 7 July 2020):

With the many changes to the way training and development opportunities are being offered as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, even if the Fellow is unable to travel we anticipate it should still be possible to expend these funds on professional development as allocated in the budget.  

NHMRC will also consider up to 12 month ‘Extend End Date’ variation requests to enable TRIP Fellows to expend Professional Development Funds at a later date.

Co-contributions impacted by COVID-19

Question:

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

Answer (added 7 July 2020):   

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 withdraws/reduces/changes 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 will be delayed 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

Question:

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

Answer (added 7 July 2020):

To assist researchers and research administrators with managing reporting obligations during the COVID-19 outbreak, NHMRC has allowed additional time as published here

General project delays and disruptions

Questions:

  • My NHMRC-funded research has been and/or will be disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak. What is NHMRC’s policy on variations as a result?
  • Will NHMRC allow project extensions due to delays related to the COVID-19 outbreak?
  • What if my project needs to be postponed or delayed because of the COVID-19 outbreak? 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 outbreak?
  • My institution is unable to complete and submit financial, research activity and other NHMRC reports by the scheduled due date, because of the COVID-19 outbreak. What is NHMRC’s position regarding such deadlines and what extensions/concessions are available?

Answers:

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 outbreak, 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 after the outbreak.

If your institution is having problems submitting reports by the due dates due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the RAO can contact NHMRC to resolve any issues.

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

As the COVID-19 outbreak 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. Variations with retrospective effect will take into account exceptional circumstances.  

NHMRC will work with Administering Institutions case by case to resolve any issues arising from the COVID-19 outbreak.

NHMRC will work with RAOs to provide more flexibility in processing grant variations, such as considering longer extension durations if required, receiving bulk requests for variations 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

Reporting requirements

To assist researchers and research administrators with managing reporting obligations during the COVID-19 outbreak, NHMRC will allow a 2-month extension on Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA) Financial Statements and MREA Financial Acquittals. The dates will not be updated in RGMS as this will create problems for background processes for the following year.

Reporting type Current due date Extended due date
MREA Financial Statements End of April 2020 End of June 2020
MREA Financial Acquittals End of June 2020 End of August 2020

 

Extensions to Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) reporting requirements will be determined based upon policy advice from the Department of Health. When that is available, it will be provided here.

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. 

NHMRC will provide a 3-month extension to due dates for Final Reports where the milestone is impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and an extension to the grant has not been provided as a result:

  • For research activities that receive an extension under a variation, this automatically extends the Final Report due date (Final Reports are due six months after the end date). 

Planned project-related travel 

Question:

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

Answers:

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 outbreak 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

Questions:

  • For grant-related travel that has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, 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:

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

Question:

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

Answers:

NHMRC recognises that the exceptional circumstances arising from the COVID-19 outbreak 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

Questions:

  • Has the Australian Government issued any advice about clinical trials during the COVID-19 outbreak?
  • What should I do if delays due to the COVID-19 outbreak 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 outbreak. 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:

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 outbreak 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

Questions:

  • What if I am a researcher involved in the clinical and public health response to the COVID-19 outbreak 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 outbreak as career disruptions and ‘relative to opportunity’ impacts?

Answers:

COVID-19 outbreak 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