Inquiry submissions question size, diversity and cost of board that will oversee Australian Research Council
Universities have outlined their hopes for the governing board that is set to oversee the Australian Research Council, with its cost and composition emerging as core concerns.
It was revealed in December that the ARC would get a governing board along with other changes that education minister Jason Clare said would “protect the independence of our research sector”.
Universities have been giving their views to the Senate Standing Committees on Education and Employment, which are holding an inquiry into the legislation around the ARC changes.
Key concerns appear to be the number of members on the board and their experience—as well as how much the changes will cost and the impact this will have on research.
Clare’s memorandum to parliament last year said the board would include a “mix of skills-based appointees” and would have up to seven members. At least one has to be an Indigenous Australian and one has to represent regional Australia.
Anthony Koutoulis, deputy vice-chancellor for research at the University of Tasmania, told the committee that the creation of an ARC board could go further and expand beyond the proposed five-to-seven-person body to allow more diversity, including people of different genders, heritages and career levels.
“The changes in the ARC Act are a crucial step in ensuring the ARC and the legislation that underpins it are modern, fit for purpose and world-leading, which will in turn promote, support and safeguard Australia’s future research,” wrote Koutoulis.
Kate McGrath, deputy vice-chancellor and vice-president for research at the University of Technology Sydney, also considered the size of the board in her response. She wrote that the proposed number of members seemed suitable, but she said it was not currently clear whether the chief executive will be a member. She also said there should be a review of the board size after 12 months.
Renée Leon, vice-chancellor and president of Charles Sturt University, also called for clarity about whether the chief executive is to be a full board member.
“We are concerned…that a board with as few as five members may be too small to carry out effectively the range of responsibilities expected of it, or to reflect the breadth and diversity of Australian research and Australian researchers,” Leon wrote. “We urge the committee to consider recommending an amendment to the bill to require the minister to appoint no fewer than five and no more than seven members to the board, in addition to the chair and deputy chair.”
Some institutions also raised concerns about the suggestion in Clare’s memorandum that the changes would cost around A$1.5 million a year and that this would come from the ARC’s existing resources.
Leon said: “We also note with concern the statement in the explanatory memorandum to the bill that the costs of implementing the recommendations of the recent review, including the appointment and operations of the board, are to be met from within the ARC’s existing resources.”
He continued: “Funding to the ARC’s operations has not kept pace with its expanding remit. The bill formalises many of these responsibilities and introduces some new ones…again without ensuring the ARC has the funding it needs to do so.”
Western Sydney University noted that success rates were in decline at the ARC. “Any further reduction in programme funding would impact Australia’s research and undercut the intention of the enhancements to the ARC proposed in the bill,” it said, urging the government “to ensure no further cuts are made to funding or resources that directly support research in Australia”.
A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe