Changes to NHMRC 2020 Funding Schemes

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have been working hard and consulting with Research Committee and a number of peak stakeholder groups to develop a way forward in these very uncertain and challenging times.

As a number of grant schemes are currently open with deadlines approaching, NHMRC have focused in the first instance on providing clarity about those schemes. There are other matters to consider over coming days and weeks, but the most urgent issue is to provide advice to researchers in the middle of putting together grant applications.

This is the revised plan for 2020. It is important to note that this plan relies on a number of factors, many of which cannot be predicted or controlled. They include the health and availability of applicants, peer reviewers and NHMRC staff. NHMRC will be relying even more than usual on strong support from the sector and peer reviewers to make this happen, acknowledging that many of their regular peer reviewers will not be available, given their involvement in the clinical and public health response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and additional teaching and caring responsibilities.

These changes will have consequences for the timing of round outcomes and the commencement of funding. Further information will be provided as NHMRC work through the details.

Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Scheme (CTCS) – delayed
NHMRC has received considerable feedback about the extraordinary impact of the pandemic on clinical, allied health and public health researchers.

Acknowledging this and the importance of funding these projects, the closing date for the CTCS scheme will be extended to 25 November 2020.

It will likely be necessary to streamline peer review processes to ensure that funding is delivered in a timely manner while maintaining high quality peer review, equity and transparency. NHMRC is aiming to have funding outcomes from this round known in mid-2021.

Ideas Grant Scheme – extra time
Recognising the size of the scheme and the role of Ideas Grants as the complement to Investigator Grants in the system, NHMRC will proceed with the Ideas Grant scheme in 2020.

The deadline will be extended by 5 weeks, with a new closing date of 10 June 2020.

Ideas Grants will also be assessed with a streamlined peer review process, to reduce the burden on peer reviewers and in an attempt to finalise funding outcomes by the end of 2020.

Research Administration Officers (RAOs) in Administering Institutions will be under significant pressure and dealing with their own uncertainty around staffing and resources. NHMRC encourage Ideas Grant applicants to support their RAOs by getting their applications in early where possible. If your Ideas Grant application is already close to being finalised, please don’t wait until the extended deadline to submit.

Synergy Grant Scheme – cancelled for 2020
NHMRC has made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Synergy Grant round. This will be very disappointing for many researchers who have worked hard to develop their research plan and build the collaborations underpinning this important scheme.

A key factor leading to this decision is the anticipated “all hands on deck” that will be required both of peer reviewers and the office of NHMRC to deliver the Ideas Grant round this year. NHMRC won’t be able to do everything and have decided to prioritise completing the Ideas Grant round due to its size and broad impact across the sector.

Peer reviewers who had agreed to provide reviews of Synergy Grant applications will be asked to consider instead undertaking review of Ideas Grant applications later in the year.

NHMRC will consider whether it is possible to run an expanded Synergy Grant round in 2021.

Investigator Grants 2020
Thank you to everyone who applied for Investigator Grants in the current round, and to the many people who completed peer review. NHMRC are expecting outcomes from the 2020 Investigator Grant round to be available soon.

NHMRC expect that updated documentation for CTCS, Ideas and other grant schemes with changed due dates will be available in GrantConnect and on the NHMRC website over the next two weeks.