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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

ID: 
11
Step 2 - Personal Details
First Name: 
Anthony
Last Name: 
Jorm
Step 3 - A. Some questions for you
1. Which of the following best explains your interest in NHMRC’s fellowship schemes: (select ONE only): 
I am currently working in the health and medical research sector
2. If you are a health and medical researcher, which of the following descriptions best classifies your research? (select ONE only): 
Public health research – please complete the next two questions
3. If you are a health and medical researcher, which of the following best describes the main source of funding that supports your salary? (select ONE only): 
NHMRC Scholarships and/or Fellowships
Step 3 - B. Consultations questions
Question 1: How should NHMRC’s funding balance between research grants and fellowships be adjusted as the total number of Project Grants available falls progressively over the next few years?: 
I think it was a mistake to encourage more 5-year Project Grant applications. It is exacerbating the trend to lower success rates that is due to the rising number of applications. I think this should be reversed.
Question 2: To increase the turnover of NHMRC Research Fellows, should these schemes be seen as ‘up and out schemes’, whereby Fellows wishing to reapply can only do so at a higher level?: 
No. I do not see this as the source of the problem. The pressure on the scheme relates to academics applying for fellowships at a level that is much lower than their academic appointment. For example, there are lots of Level Es who apply for SRFA appointments. This means that they are applying for a part salary from NHMRC and the institution is topping them up. This would not be a bad thing were it not for the fact that the more senior people are out-competing applicants who are applying at the appropriate level. It is hard for a Level C applicant applying at SRFA to compete with a Level E also applying for an SRFA. I think the solution is to require people to apply for fellowships at the same level as their academic appointment. This would be fairer on the people moving up from lower levels. I also think there needs to be encouragement of older fellows to move their salaries on to superannuation and make way for the next generation. The problem with the current system is that if an older fellow leaves the scheme they are seen as 'retired' and 'emeritus'. There could be provision to hold an NHMRC fellowship without salary, but with infrastructure support to institutions that host the fellow. This might encourage transition to superannuation as a source of salary, while still continuing as an active researcher.
Question 3: Are there too many Fellowship levels? Does this structure impede the career progression of rapidly rising stars in health and medical research?: 
No. There is nothing to stop a rapidly rising star from applying at the top levels if they want to. There is no requirement to progress through all the levels at a standard rate.
Question 4: Noting the implications outlined in the Issues paper, should NHMRC extend the duration of Early Career Fellowships to more than 4 years and Career Development Fellowships beyond 5 years (to 7 or 10 years)?: 
Extending these fellowships would just create future bottlenecks for younger researchers who want to enter these schemes. The move to encourage 5-year Project Grants appears to be associated with lower success rates and considerable frustration from the many unsuccessful applicants. Extending the duration of the ECF and CDF schemes risks having the same effect. It would be wonderful for the lucky people whose fellowships are extended, but not for those coming out of PhDs who will miss out as a consequence.
Question 5: Should NHMRC identify and support strategic priority areas in order to build capacity for the future? What else should be done to support women and increase participation and success by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers?: 
I think priorities should set, but around national needs for researchers in particular areas, rather than sociodemographic characteristics like gender and ethnic status. Currently we have a system where the distribution of national research effort is largely determined by the number of applicants in various fields. For example, if we have lots of biomedical researchers doing PhDs, there will be lots applying for ECFs and then seeking to move through the system. On the other hand, if few people do health services research PhDs, this will flow through to the distribution of national effort in the the fellowship schemes. We need a discussion on national priorities and an allocation of fellowship slots based on this. The aim of the scheme needs to be to support national needs for research in particular areas, not to support the career aspirations of particular sub-groups of the population. If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is a priority, then we need more people working in this area, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers may be better placed to do this. However, there would be no gain to the health of that group of the population if we had more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers working, for example, in basic biomedical sciences.
Question 6: Is there a better solution to encouraging diversity in careers than those based on years post-PhD?: 
I think the diversity within the scheme needs to be based on national needs for research in various areas, not on people's career aspirations. The scheme should aim to benefit the health of Australia and the world, and the funding of fellowships should be based on priorities for improving national and global health. I think a major problem with the fellowship scheme is that the demand is driven bottom-up by PhD graduates and their aspirations. We need to think about how many PhDs we need and in what areas. We need a more top-down approach to research workforce training.
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
My major concern is not what employing institutions do to support people leaving the fellowship scheme, but the cost shifting that occurs from the institution to the fellowship scheme when some people move into it. There are people who are supported in a research role by their institution, who then apply for a fellowship, often at a level below that of their academic appointment (e.g. Level E academic applying at the SRF level). This is effectively cost shifting part of the salary from the institution on to NHMRC. I think the rules need to discourage cost shifting by not allowing applications from people who currently have institutional salary support for a research role and by not allowing applications by senior people for more junior levels. If there were to be greater institutional support for people moving out of the fellowship system, then there needs to be care to ensure that this is not in effect support for fellows who become non-competitive in the scheme. It should not be a type of second-rung fellowship scheme for the less competitive.
Question 8: Would this be achieved if NHMRC required institutions to commit to one or more years of ongoing support for researchers exiting from NHMRC Fellowships? : 
I think there would be merit in supporting fellows for 1-2 years if they opt to transition out of the scheme, but if the funding was provided to unsuccessful applicants, it could end up supporting less successful fellows who failed to compete.
Question 9: Should this be restricted to Early Career and Career Development Fellows?: 
If it were done at all, then I think it would be better for the earlier career fellows, who may face a premature end to their research career otherwise.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016