Review of NHMRC’s grant programme announced

The NHMRC CEO, Professor Anne Kelso, has announced a review of the structure of NHMRC’s grant programme.

NHMRC awards grants worth around $800 million each year from the Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA). In recent years, rising application numbers to NHMRC schemes and rising costs of research have presented new challenges as we seek to support excellence across all research sectors – from knowledge creation to translation into better healthcare – and provide opportunities for researchers at different stages of their careers.

“We have a vibrant, highly productive and internationally competitive research community. However, we are also aware that the increasing number of applications places a heavy burden on applicants and on the many members of the research community who peer-review applications,” NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso said. “Concerns have also been raised that opportunities for early and mid-career researchers and for exploration of new areas of research are being affected.”

“We are therefore commencing an over-arching review of the structure of NHMRC’s grant programme to determine whether we can streamline the current suite of funding schemes, while continuing to support the best Australian research and researchers for the benefit of human health.”

“The review will consider previous work, such as the information received from the Fellowship Consultation conducted by NHMRC last year. A number of submissions to that consultation suggested there is a need for a strategic, whole-of-system review of NHMRC’s funding programme.”

“I have established an Expert Advisory Group to assist me in the review and I am delighted that Professor Steve Wesselingh has agreed to chair the Group,” Professor Kelso said.

In addition to the Expert Advisory Group, external consultation will be undertaken through institutional round-tables and a period of public consultation. It is expected this will occur around the middle of 2016.

Terms of Reference

The Review will examine and provide advice to the CEO of NHMRC about:

  1. the structure of the grant programme, including:
  • the impact of the grant programme on the health and medical research sector;
  • the flexibility of the grant programme to meet future needs for health and medical research in Australia; and
  1. alternative models and their potential to overcome the current challenges.

The Review will consider relevant overseas experience with medical research grant programmes. NHMRC will also consider feedback provided in response to its Fellowship Consultation.

Conduct of the review

The Review will be conducted by the Office of NHMRC, reporting to the CEO. An Expert Advisory Group will provide advice and assistance to NHMRC in examining the current grant programme and possible alternative models. This Group will be chaired by Professor Steve Wesselingh and members have a variety of different experiences and perspectives. The membership of the Group is provided below.

The CEO will draw on the advice of the Expert Advisory Group and NHMRC Research Committee, with additional advice from NHMRC Council, Health Translation Advisory Committee, Health Innovation Advisory Committee and the Principal Committee Indigenous Caucus.

External consultation will be undertaken through institutional round-tables and a period of public consultation, expected to commence around the middle of 2016.

We anticipate that the Review will be finalised the end of 2016.

Membership of the Expert Advisory Group



Croakey Atricle - "Could the review of the NHMRC’s grant programme save centuries of researchers’ time?"  by Associate Professor Adrian Barnett.

Adrian concludes:

Overall the review is a very welcome initiative from the NHMRC under the guidance of new CEO Anne Kelso. Applying for research funding will never be the most fun thing researchers do, but there’s certainly room to make the current process less sadistic. The only stumble I would highlight at this early stage is the lack of any early career researchers on the 14-member panel. The massive recent change in research careers means we can’t rely on professors’ memories of what it was like when they started out.