13 December 2018

Maintaining the Social Science Success at the ARC

The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (ASSA) welcomes the 28 November results of the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) National Competitive Grants Program. Social, behavioural, and economic science grants were close to overall average approval rates for the Discovery and Early Career Researcher grants announced.

In contrast, ASSA expresses concern at some other recent research grant developments. These developments include:

  • Low social science shares in 2018 Future Fellowships, where the single humanities, arts, and social sciences (HASS) category success rate is 13.8%, compared with 21.1% and 23.1% for the two science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) categories.
  • Low social science shares in 2018 Laureate Fellowships, where 2 out of 16 Laureate Fellowships went to HASS researchers.
  • Revelation in 2018 of earlier secret Ministerial discretion exercised in refusing 11 HASS Discovery grants recommended by independent experts.
  • Transference announced in November 2018 of $134 million from the Research Support Program, which provides block grants crucial for funding researchers and libraries, to regional universities’ support.

These developments have been casting doubt on both the standing of the review processes that underpin Australia’s reputation for research excellence, and the adequacy and sustainability of funding for this research. This severely damages a balanced research investment and even damages research careers for young Australians.

Ironically, ASSA is currently assisting overseas colleagues, such as those in Indonesia, to develop research grant processes. In drawing on the Australian model and experience, the Academy is increasingly having to present strengths and weaknesses more forcefully than before.

To help redress this growing concern over grant administration, alongside the fundamental issue of restoring appropriate funding levels, one immediate step would be to guarantee that the detail of the new National Interest Test process benefits from consultation. The Learned Academies offer a source of such advice, and ASSA reiterates that it would be pleased to assist.

This matter is especially pertinent to ASSA, as the social sciences have been adversely affected by changes of this kind in the past. A notable example is the imposition of the National Science and Research Priorities in 2015: almost all the priorities focussed on natural and physical science fields, which has had significant adverse effects on social science research investment. Social science research is much needed by the nation. ASSA believes all major areas of knowledge research should be well supported, well-motivated, and contribute equally to understanding our world.

We emphasise the need for balanced and informed Australian research funding. This should embrace funding levels in the national interest, and award processes devoted to a genuine and well-designed specification of the national interest.

For further comment:

Glenn Withers, ASSA President: glenn.withers@anu.edu.au; 02 6125 4606

Jane Hall, ASSA President Elect: jane.hall@uts.edu.au; 02 9514 4718


About ASSA:

ASSA promotes excellence in the social sciences in Australia. It promotes national and international scholarly cooperation across disciplines and sectors, comments on national needs and priorities in the social sciences, and provides advice to government on issues of national importance. ASSA is an independent, interdisciplinary body of Fellows, elected by their peers for their distinguished achievements and exceptional contributions to the social sciences. It is an autonomous, non-governmental organisation devoted to the advancement of knowledge and research in the social sciences, and their application in public policy.