Aust Research Council gets new advisory committee, new translation focus

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Joseph Brookes

A new advisory committee for the Australian Research Council has been appointed to provide guidance on the troubled agency’s governance and strategy as the government seeks to align publicly funded research with national priorities and improve translation rates.

The committee was appointed late last week by acting Education minister Stuart Robert, who set new expectations for the Australian Research Council (ARC) in December, including a sharper focus on commercialisation and industry outcomes.

The new ARC Advisory Committee is chaired by Curtin University deputy vice-chancellor research professor Chris Moran, an expert in resources and mining, and made up predominantly by academics with research translation experience.

Curtin University deputy vice chancellor research professor Chris Moran is chair of the new ARC Advisory Committee

Industry is directly represented through Mark McKenzie from the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia and the food and agribusiness growth centre’s Dr Mirjana Prica, who also has a background in research.

Other members include former Australian of the year and UNSW professor Michelle Simmons, who leads a government and industry backed quantum startup Silicon Quantum Computing, and research entrepreneur Professor Mark Hutchinson of the University of Adelaide, who also leads the peak science body.

The full ARC Advisory Committee is

  • Professor Chris Moran, deputy vice-chancellor, research, Curtin University (chair)
  • Dr Mirjana Prica, managing director of Food Innovation Australia Limited
  • Professor Michelle Simmons AO, director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, The University of New South Wales
  • Professor Mark Hutchinson, director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Calum Drummond AO, deputy vice-chancellor, research and innovation and vice-president, RMIT University
  • Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter, commissioner, Yoorrook Justice Commission, Victoria
  • Mr Mark McKenzie, director, Council of Small Business Organisations Australia
  • Professor Deborah Terry AO, vice chancellor and president, University of Queensland
  • Mr Tony Cook, deputy secretary (ex officio representative from Department of Education, Skills and Employment)
  • Mr David Williamson, deputy secretary (ex officio representative from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources)

The ARC has faced increased scrutiny over delays to its funding announcements and its recommendations being vetoed by Coalition ministers on national interest grounds.

The government has also set new demands for the ARC through a letter of expectations sent to the agency in December, shortly before former ARC chief executive professor Sue Thomas unexpectedly left the agency.

The new expectations include a “stronger governance structure” and for a bigger share of research funding to be reserved for projects involving industry partners operating in areas aligned with the government’s manufacturing priorities.

Industry and research end users are also set to play a greater role in the ARC’s funding recommendations, including new representation on assessment panels.

The advisory committee revealed this week was also called for in the letter to assist the agency’s chief executive through a “proactive agenda” that includes a new three-year ARC strategy.

The committee will provide support and recommendations on the e strategic agenda of the organisation but the chief executive will retain the role of funding recommendations, according to the letter.

On Tuesday, current acting ARC chief executive Judi Zielke welcomed the new advisory committee.

“The ARC recognises the importance of working with experts across the higher education and research sector, and those with industry and end-user experience.” Ms Zielke said.

“I look forward to receiving strategic advice from the group to improve governance, drive reform, and to maximise the benefits of ARC funded research for all Australians.”

The ARC Advisory Committee chair is Curtin University deputy vice chancellor research and a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering professor Chris Moran.

Professor Moran previously worked at the University of Queensland as director of its Sustainable Minerals Institute. He was also founding director of the university’s Centre for Coal Seam Gas and Centre for Water in the Minerals Industry. Prior to this he spent 16 years as a CISRO scientist.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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