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‘Expressions of interest’ stage knocks out 3,000 applications

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Australian Research Council introduced stage before full applications to reduce wasted effort among researchers

The Australian Research Council’s first use of expressions of interest has knocked out almost three-quarters of applications for 2025 Discovery Project funding.

Of 4,147 expressions of interest, 1,141—or 27.5 per cent—have been invited to submit full applications to the ARC. The use of expressions of interest aims to reduce wasted effort for researchers and administrators.

Applicants received a letter ranking but no written feedback.

The previous round of Discovery Projects, for 2024, was worth a total of A$220 million, with a success rate of 16.3 per cent out of 2,590 applications.

Largely positive

Palli Thordarson, director of the RNA Institute at the University of New South Wales and president of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, told Research Professional News that he believes the move has been a positive one so far.

Thordarson conducted an informal poll on social media that received around 500 responses. He said that of those, around two-thirds were happy with the process, including just over half of those whose applications did not proceed.

Those applicants now know that they did not get a grant and can move on with their lives, he said.

Feedback from some of the more than 3,500 members of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, and from co-workers at the RNA Institute, has also been largely positive, he said.

Thordarson said that aspects of the process are, however, still unclear to some applicants, including whether the same assessors will work on the final stage of applications, how far applications can change between stages and how disparate rankings by assessors are being resolved.

He said that some applicants wanted more feedback but that the process was designed to be as fast as possible and had returned answers in six weeks.

Thordarson, who has previously served on the ARC’s College of Experts, is not leading a bid in this round but is a named investigator on an application.

The success of the new process will ultimately be measured by how well the final decisions follow the rankings of the expert external reviewers’ panels and reflect the quality of the research, he said. “My personal view is it’s probably about as good as it will get.”

He added that he would also like to see the ARC bring in more international assessors, with payment.  

Variability of rankings

The operator of the account ARC Tracker on the social media site X told Research Professional News that the sector should “wait until the end of the process to really assess how it went”.

They said that the ARC needs to “take seriously” concerns about apparent variability of assessor rankings of the expressions of interest.

Feedback and direct messages on X indicate that most applicants are simply trying to understand the process, they said, rather than judging it as “great or terrible”. Some unsuccessful applicants did, however, seem relieved that they did not have to wait six months for an outcome.

The ARC Tracker operator works for an organisation that submitted an application to the 2025 Discovery Projects round.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe