Education

Australian Research Council reverses new funding rule after widespread criticism


The Australian Research Council has reversed its decision to ban preprint material from being cited in funding applications, after widespread criticism from the academic community.

The ban, introduced by the federal government agency in the 2021 funding round of the Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards and Future Fellowships, was opposed by hundreds of Australian researchers, including the presidents of peak scientific bodies representing researchers in mathematics and the physical sciences.

The reversal comes after Guardian Australia reported last month on the concerns of researchers whose grant applications had been disqualified as a result of the rule. Several described it as a “devastating” event that jeopardised their research careers in Australia.

It is common practice in certain disciplines to upload research papers to preprint servers while they undergo rigorous peer-review before publication in academic journals.

The ARC’s decision to ban applicants from citing such preprints in funding proposals had been described as out of keeping with modern research practices and “a remarkably stupid own-goal for Australian science”.

In a statement on Tuesday, the ARC said: “The inclusion of preprints will no longer be considered an eligibility issue and applications will not be excluded by their use.

“Instead, the ARC will rely on the knowledge of its assessors in determining the value, suitability and relevance of citations and research outputs for the disciplinary field.”

The rule reversal brings the ARC in line with many funding bodies internationally, such as the European Research Council and the National Institutes of Health in the US, which accept preprints in their applications.

It was revealed in August that ARC grant applications totalling $22m in funding were deemed ineligible, after the Senate passed an order for production of documents requiring the government to provide de-identified information about the proposals.

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Greens senator and education spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi, who moved the motion last month, said in a statement: “The ARC has seen sense and rescinded this nonsensical rule after a huge backlash from the research community.

“The ARC needs to do much better on transparency. It should not have taken a Senate order to divulge key information about impacted DECRA and Future Fellowship applications.”

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The ARC said the change to preprint requirements would not be applied to funding rounds where application deadlines had passed, but that it would progress with “standard application and appeals processes … as a matter of priority”.

Faruqi said: “It’s devastating that the rule will continue to apply for rounds already closed, and I urge the ARC to reconsider. More researchers will unnecessarily face heartbreak, with the physical sciences disproportionately impacted.

“If the ARC does not publish the information for applications impacted in rounds still under consideration, I will again ask the Senate to order its release.”



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