Strengthening Medical Research Future Fund’s success

Australia’s ground-breaking Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) could be an even greater success story by bolstering its transparency, accessibility and responsiveness.

Image by jarmoluk on Pixabay.

Science & Technology Australia has proposed a series of practical recommendations to enhance the fund’s effectiveness in a submission to the Australian National Audit Office’s review of the Department of Health’s Management of the MRFF.

STA’s proposals would strengthen the governance and transparency of the MRFF – and make it clearer to researchers how decisions are made and funding is awarded.

The proposals were informed by feedback from STA members, representing more than 88,000 STEM professionals and researchers across Australia.

The leading recommendation was a call for greater transparency in the scheme.

“The creation of the MRFF has been a visionary initiative for Australia. It is funding some incredibly exciting medical research across the country,” said Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert.

“However MRFF projects are assessed by a range of different granting organisations – rather than by a single entity – which makes it more complex than other grant funds.”

“Publishing clearer outlines to explain how decisions are made by each of these organisations would help to improve the transparency of the fund.”

“We also see an important opportunity to give more detailed feedback to unsuccessful applicants – which would, in turn, improve the quality of future applications, and give applicants a greater chance of success.”

STA has also recommended longer lead times for application rounds.

“MRFF initiatives are often complex – requiring industry, medical researchers, and universities to work together on a very detailed application with approvals.”

“Putting in place a four-week guaranteed minimum application period would ensure there is time to bring together diverse stakeholders, and bolster quality applications.”

“A minimum period would also mean researchers with caring and family responsibilities aren’t disadvantaged.”

STA is pleased that the MRFF has this year reached its $20 billion investment target, to enable it to disburse regular funding each year.

“We are delighted to see the fund reach its goal. The steady investment in medical research that should now flow each year is warmly welcomed by the sector.”

“Having reached this important milestone, it is timely to review the management of the fund to ensure it is working well and meeting its goals.”

STA recommended:

  • Transparent and public outlines of the selection process for every organisation involved in the selection of MRFF grants;
  • Detailed selection reports summarising outcomes and success rates including analysis of success rates by sector, gender, geography and other key parameters;
  • The MRFF institute standard application timeframes for all applications, with a minimum of four weeks;
  • Scheme guidelines should include a published date for announcement of funded projects (under embargo);
  • Great clarity of the governance structure of the MRFF and how it relates to the selection of priorities and administration of research initiatives;
  • The publication of a consultation summary alongside new strategies and priorities that outlines how sector submissions are included in the strategy and priority documents;
  • MRFF Strategies include a timeframe for the opening and closing of applications for each of the priorities;
  • The different granting bodies administering the MRFF publish success rates of the medical research initiatives after each application round;
  • A 15-20 working day delay of the start date be allowed before a review of the funding agreement is triggered; and
  • The MRFF appoints a business manager with research project implementation experience to enhance understanding in the monitoring of projects.

STA’s full submission is available to read and download here.

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