The introduction of structural priority funding in 2017 has significantly reduced disparities between women and men in the number of grants and total funding awarded.

Since 2012, NHMRC has introduced a range of initiatives to improve gender equity across its grant program. Over the same period, it has seen increases in applications submitted by women and in grants and funds awarded to women (Table 1).

Table 1: Percentage of applications submitted by women, and grants and funds awarded to women, in 2012 vs 2021 – all schemes

 Percentage with female CIA
Applications submitted41.045.6
Grants awarded38.446.3
Funds awarded31.644.4

In particular, the introduction of structural priority funding in 2017 has significantly reduced disparities in the funding awarded to women and men. Developed as a special measure under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, structural priority funding is currently used to fund additional high-quality ‘near-miss’ research applications led by women. Structural priority funding is also applied to fund grants led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers or for research to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

How is structural priority funding awarded?

  • Before each annual grant round, NHMRC seeks the advice of its Research Committee on the allocation of funds from the Medical Research Endowment Account across the grant program and on structural priorities for the year ahead.
  • Based on this advice, NHMRC allocates a baseline budget for each grant scheme and a structural priority budget for use in some schemes.
  • Following independent peer review, applications to a grant scheme are ranked by score.
  • The baseline budget for the scheme is allocated starting at the top of the ranked list until it runs out.
  • In some schemes, the structural priority budget is then used to fund high-scoring applications below the initial funding cut-off in the pre-defined structural priority areas.

Between 2017 and 2021, 217 grants totalling $227.4 million were awarded to female lead Chief Investigators (CIAs) using structural priority funding. This direct intervention has delivered parity or near parity of funded rates for women and men in NHMRC’s grant program overall (see Figure 1; arrow shows the year structural priority funding was introduced).

Figure 1: Funded rates by gender of CIA (2012–2021) – all schemes

Figure 1: Funded rates by gender of CIA (2012–2021) – all schemes

‘Funded rate’ is the number of grants awarded as a percentage of the number of applications. ‘All applicants’ include CIAs who did not state their gender or declared it as Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified. Arrow indicates the year of introduction of structural priority funding. The total number of grants has declined from 2019 in part because of the introduction of NHMRC’s new grant program in which funding for fellowship salaries and research support was consolidated in the Investigator Grant scheme and application numbers to certain schemes were capped.