NHMRC Public Consultations

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Current and Emerging Issues for- NHMRC Fellowship Schemes submission

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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?: 
If project grants are getting bigger (which assumes that projects are also increasing in scope and size) – then the maximum limit of 6 current project grants per CI needs to be lowered. It is simply inequitable for a few researchers to hold the majority of available NHMRC project funding. A maximum of 3 or 4 project grants per CI would be more equitable distribution of funds, as well as potentially easing the pressure Universities exert on research fellows to apply for multiple project grants every round, every year.
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?: 
Re-distribution of funding to ensure there are (roughly) equal numbers of ECF, CDFs and RFs offered. Tighter eligibility for NHMRC fellowships of any type – restrict only to those who do not have permanent positions at Universities. If they have a secure position at a University, then their institution should be funding their time in research. In answer to Question 2: Yes – fellows wishing to re-apply should be required to do so at higher level each time they apply to ensure career flow and minimise “stagnation”.
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)?: 
If projects grants are now expected to last for at least 4-5 years, then 5 years should be the minimal term for all research fellowship schemes (excluding short non-research fellowships like TRIP, and Practitioner).
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?: 
NHMRC should continue to fund fellowships based on excellence. The challenge with strategically targeted fellowships is how to ensure that the most excellent medical researchers are being funded? Is there any evidence from overseas that strategic targeting produces better outcomes for medical research, and health benefits? To support women in science, particularly in later more senior positions, greater flexibility is required for those with family/carer duties. Either part-time fellowships should be offered or support packages that can assist in funding child-care, family travel requirements etc. The reporting of career breaks need to be broader. If an applicant has had a career break over 5 years ago to start a family, this career break is not considered under current reporting of career break (within last 5 years). Yet, a substantial break to have, say, 2 children, followed by some time working part-time, will affect outputs over at least the next 10 years as it takes a considerable amount of time to re-establish competitive rates of output. Also, a greater range of performance indicators should be considered in track record assessment. The traditional outputs of papers, grants and students are very sensitive to career breaks. A period of part-time work to care for family should not be considered a “lack of dedication to career” and “no leadership profile”. These women represent considerable talent with significant potential to be future research leaders, if they are supported through this time. Other outputs during part-time work could include examples of community/institutional service, examples of translation, and supporting, supervising and mentoring other members of the research team.
Question 7: Should employing institutions be expected to provide more certainty to their employees than now? : 
Employing institutions should be expected to provide up to 2 years of salary security for those transitioning between fellowship schemes (say, from ECF to CDF, or CDF to SRF). In addition, they should be expected to match NHMRC salary support for those on senior fellowships (eg, five years salary following a term as SRF). Employing institutions receive many gains from the hard work and achievements of NHMRC fellows including research reputation and government funding. It is equitable to expect that some of these gains should be returned to successful NHMRC fellows in the form of job security.

Page reviewed: 28 January, 2016