Medical Research Future Fund Research Administration Officer Webinar – 28 August 2023

In this video we provide research administration officers with information about Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) funding calls. We also talk about MRFF reporting, and post-award grants management.


Ragini Singh:

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us today. We're welcoming you from the Medical Research Future Fund. I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians on whose lands we are joining from today throughout Australia. I would also like to pay my respect to the elders, past, present, and those emerging. I'm Ragini Singh. I'm the director of the Grants Management Office within the Health and Medical Research Office for the Medical Research Future Fund, and I welcome you to the third MRFF Research Administration Officers webinar. This is an ongoing MRFF offering that occurs twice a year. The session today is going to cover a range of topics, beginning with the intent and purpose of these webinars, and these topics will be presented to you by the Medical Research Future Fund directors.

So let's begin by looking at the purpose of these webinars and why they commenced. The aim of these webinars is to provide practical information platforms to connect the MRFF directors and the officers, with research administration officers and talk about in particular MRFF administrative arrangements. It's also to assist potential grantees in better understanding MRFF funding requirements and to assist researchers as well as RAOs. In addition, we like to seek feedback through this mechanism from RAOs. We like to determine what the burning questions of the day are with a view towards continuous improvement of MRFF grants administration and to aid the implementation of any changes as a result of the questions that we receive. Now I'd like to hand over to my colleague, Shelley Li, Director from the Missions, Strategy and Implementation team to talk about the next portion of this presentation.

Shelley Li:

Thank you very much, Ragini. I'm Shelley. I'm the Director of the Missions, Strategy and Implementation Team and I'll be speaking to, about some of the upcoming funding calls we have under the MRFF, in particular the four priority investments which have been announced by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, and this includes post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, also known as PASC; Childhood Mental Health, and then I'll hand over to Associate Professor Ruth Griffiths to speak to the primary health and Targeted Translation for Research Accelerator known as TTRA.

So firstly, we'll be speaking to PASC. So as you may be aware, the Minister announced investments for PASC in June. This is a $50 million investment over five years from 2023-24 onwards, and this is to improve outcomes for people experiencing PASC. This funding is through the Emerging Priorities and Consumer-Driven Research Initiative, which is under the MRFF. As you can see on the right-hand side, we have the PASC research plan and this has been developed by an independent expert advisory panel to advise the Minister of Health and Aged Care on the strategic priorities for research investment. This is also found on our website and it might look quite familiar because it was adapted from the implementation plans, which we used for the MRFF missions. However, it's been truncated for the purposes of the priority investments as the funding portfolio is generally smaller of around $50 million and it covers a shorter period of four to five years rather than 10 years as we have in Missions.

As you can see, the terms of reference is also available in the link below here for the expert advisory panel, also known as EAPs. The EAP for the post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, also known as PASC, was led by Professor Gail Matthews and the EAP consisted of academics, health professionals and consumers. The first grant opportunity under this research plan is expected to open shortly, and I would strongly encourage you to look at these research plans. They inform not only the priority areas for investment, but it also includes all the details that we put into the grant opportunity guidelines that you may find helpful and that includes the topics, types of grants as well that we’ll be using,, the quantum of each topic as well, and also the duration. It also specifies when we’ll be going out with the grant opportunities as well, so you know exactly what's coming up in the grant opportunities.

So I'll be speaking to the PASC-EAP and the purpose of this. So the purpose of the EAP for PASC is to provide the Minister for Health and Aged Care with advice on research investments required to meet the following objectives: that is to generate evidence on current and future impacts of PASC in specific Australian context, and that includes individual health and wellbeing, carers, communities, and the health system; it is also to design and evaluate clinical pathways and models of care. This is co-led by general practitioners and primary health for Australians with PASC, including to address inequities in access and outcomes. Lastly, to generate new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to prevent the occurrence of PASC and, or to improve health outcomes for individuals with PASC. Additionally, the EAP is also to consider priority populations, including but not limited to people living in rural, regional and remote communities, First Nations and Culturally And Linguistically Diverse people.

So moving on to the next priority research investment, we have the childhood mental health research plan. This is also a $50 million investment over four years from 2024-25 onwards to support research to improve patient care, translate new discoveries into clinical practice, and encourage researchers to work together with consumers. The funding is also through the existing MRFF initiative, the Emerging Priorities and Consumer-Driven Research Initiative. Again, you can also find the terms of reference for the expert advisory panel for this in the link below. And the research plan was also developed and it's currently being finalised. This was developed by another expert advisory panel or EAP, and this was led by Professor Jenny Hudson. The EAP also consisted of a range of individuals including academics, health professionals, and consumers. We are also looking to publish this research plan shortly following its approval with the first grant opportunity expected to open in September.

Similarly, for the childhood mental health research plan expert advisory panel, the purpose of it was to provide the Minister for Health and Aged Care with advice on research investments required to meet the following objectives: firstly to generate knowledge on their determinants and protective factors for optimal mental health and wellbeing in children; generate knowledge to improve access to and delivery of evidence-based treatments and reduce mental illness and psychological distress in children; address inequities in childhood mental health and psychological distress outcomes; and lastly, to inform the implementation of current and future policies and programs in child mental health.

Similar to the PASC EAP, in addition to the objectives, the EAP also considered how to consider priority populations, including, but not limited to people living in rural, regional, and remote areas, First Nations and Culturally And Linguistically Diverse people. I will be passing you over to Associate Professor Ruth Griffiths to talk about the primary health research plan.

Ruth Griffiths:

Hi, everyone. My name's Ruth Griffiths. I'm the director of Patients and Infrastructure within the MRFF, and it'll be my pleasure and delight to take you through to the next two priority investment plans, very similar to what Shelley's already outlined in her two, but just drawing your attention to these so that you can be on the front foot about getting your researchers prepared for applications for when the first grant opportunities open. So the first one I'll be talking about is one that I'm actually leading on. It's the 2023 Primary Health Research Plan. We also have $50 million over four years from 2024-25 to drive innovation in primary care,  and the funding is through both the Emerging Priorities and Consumer-driven Research Initiative, but also through my own Primary Healthcare Initiative. Again, the terms of reference are available on our website and I'll go through a little bit more detail about them, but they basically tell you the scope of the guidelines that will be coming.

The other thing I'd just say is that this very much came out of the recommendations of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce and the reform that's happening in that space as well, so it very much ties into broader work across the Department as well. So the expert advisory panel was chaired by Professor Jane Gunn and the expert advisory panel was commissioned to provide the Minister with advice on research investments required to meet the following objectives. So again, this gives you the heads-up about what's coming in terms of grant opportunity guidelines. So what we're interested in is researchers identifying and evaluating multidisciplinary models of care, primary care, i.e., those relating to voluntary patient registration, innovative models in rural and remote communities, team-based care.

We also are looking at models that deliver higher quality and more effective care with a focus on addressing inequities in access and outcomes experienced by priority populations. And so you'll pick up this language all the way through about really focusing on priority populations. We're interested in not just urban areas or, I guess, you know traditional areas where a lot of research has been carried out, but maybe more disadvantaged or traditionally underserved populations in Australia as well. So very much there's a flavour and a focus of that coming through.

We were also looking for advice on enhancing linkage and/or use of research data infrastructure sources. For example, electronic medical record repositories and administrative data sets, those sorts of tools, to identify and evaluate models of primary care excellence and/or support health system planning. So again, a research data infrastructure lens there. And then, we also wanted advice on how to support translational research carried out with practitioners in primary care setting, and of note, primary care is not just general practitioners, it's primary care in its broadest form, but also looking for knowledge transfer amongst primary care practitioners and academia to improve patient-centered care. So very much looking for translational research, things that can be shared, knowledge that can be gained and then disseminated more broadly.

So additionally, we wanted the EAP to provide advice on how to involve all stakeholders relevant to the research and its translation in the conceptualization, design, and implementation of that research, and really with an emphasis on including healthcare consumers and providers. So not just top-down efforts, but also involving the end users of primary care as well, in the consumers themselves. We also wanted them to consider how to best support, again, research translation and implementation in primary care to raise the profile of primary care as a field of choice for health practitioners and academics. We're conscious that there are some capacity issues across the sector, some of which are not unique to primary care. There's EMCRs of all types having troubles at the moment, but we wanted to think about how we could capacity-build within these programs of research to really make primary care a field of choice as a workforce incentive as well.

So just before I head on to the Targeted Translation Research Accelerator, the plan has been approved by the Minister and will be published very shortly, as Shelley mentioned, for the childhood mental health plan as well. It will come out, keep an eye on our MRFF newsletter. We will announce it within there as soon as it is published, and you can have a look at it and that will give you a bit of a head start. The guidelines are anticipated for the first opportunity to be released in September, but that plan will give you a steer and a bit of a heads-up about what's coming, so have a look at the plan and start talking about it with your researchers.

So the last of the priority investments was the Targeted Translation Research Accelerator Research Plan. They had a little bit more money, $77 and a half million dollars from this year, 2023-24, to support research into diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So a couple of things to note. The research will be into both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and the funding will be provided through the Preventive and Public Health Research Initiative of the MRFF. Again, terms of reference are available on our website, which starts to give you a steer about the direction of those funding opportunities that will be coming out.

And so from those terms of reference, the expert advisory panel, which was chaired by a member of our own AMRAB board which was Mr. Yasser El-Ansary, and I hope I pronounced that correctly. So he chaired the panel. It was a diverse panel again of different types of experts from both industry, academia, clinicians, a whole range of people were on the panel as well. And the purpose of that panel was to provide the Minister for Health and Aged Care advice on research investments required to meet the following objectives.

Firstly, we want to accelerate promising therapeutic approaches and devices for the prevention, early detection, management, and treatment, so the whole range for disease-related complications for diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2 and cardiovascular disease, so quite broad. We also wanted to support implementation of effective novel interventions and models of care for patients experiencing multimorbidity across diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2, cardiovascular disease, and their risk factors. We also wanted to address inequities in treatment, management, access to care, and health outcomes for those experiencing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and also inform implementation of current and future policies and programs in diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

So again, for all information on all of those priority investments, have a look on our website, keep an eye on the MRFF newsletter. We are announcing every time there's a new development or a new publication that's available, so please keep an eye on that newsletter and please disseminate that to your researchers so that they're best prepared for the grant opportunities when they're open. And I'll hand back to Ragini for the next section.

Ragini Singh:

Thank you, Ruth and Shelley, for taking us through the upcoming and currently open grant opportunities and the plans. I'll today be talking about managing MRFF grants briefly. So my section looks after the post-award management of MRFF grants. We look after the policies, et cetera, so I'll take you through some tips to watch out for when you're reviewing and assessing progress reports and final reports before you submit them in your capacity as RAOs to the Department for review. And secondly, I'll also be talking about some ongoing developments in the post-award grants management space.

Firstly with progress and final reports for Medical Research Future Fund grants, these are quite essential for us because they form a way for us to touch base with the researchers and see on the ground essentially what work is continuing, how that grant is working towards its objectives and outcomes, and then to also get a sense of the newsworthy findings essentially from those grants. Some of the tips that I would like to communicate today really tie in with your work as RAOs and the sorts of things you need to be looking at when you're reviewing progress and final reports. When you are looking at a report and if something hasn't gone to plan, if it's relevant to that grant activity and being funded from that MRFF grant, ideally it would be reported through the reporting process via the grant administration hub for the Department's review. However, if it's occurring outside the reporting cycle, please get in touch with the grant administration hub via email as well and they'll communicate that to the respective policy area within the Medical Research Future Fund Health and Medical Research Office.

If you are unable to submit a progress report by the due date and you know you're going to require more time, please also get in touch with the grant administration hub. Let them know of the reasons of the delay. If the delay is significant, a variation might need to be requested, as necessary. And the details of the sorts of variations that you can apply for MRFF grants is outlined in our MRFF grant variation policy. But again, if you have any questions in relation to variations or reports, your grant administration hub, either NHMRC or BGH, is the first port of call for those questions.

In addition to risks and mitigation strategies that you often will be outlining in progress reports, it’s also very important to highlight the wins of your research team and any newsworthy findings because one key thing that we look for are these newsworthy findings so we can help publicise them. It’s also very important to use plain English and user-friendly language essentially because we will rely on that information for communication purposes. If there is confidential information, please don’t include it in the reports, or highlight it as confidential separately, so we can treat it as such.

Also, just a thing to note, if things haven't gone to plan, which is often the case with research projects due to delays or other setbacks or issues during project implementation, please don't wait until the final report to communicate these to Health. Be proactive. Submit this information to the Department through the grant administration hub as soon as you become aware You might need to again submit a variation request if the delay is significant. For example, if you require a deferment or extensions, these need to be requested well before the current activity end date of your grant. So these are some of the common things that we find in terms of issues with reports and it's important to look out for these before you submit a report for the Department's consideration.

In terms of grant management developments, you would have heard through prior webinars and also through written communication to your RAO offices and to your finance offices that we are moving towards a structure where we are trying to align our financial reporting with our project reporting. And the driver for this has been the fact that for NHMRC-administered grants at the moment, the progress report template includes provisions for financial reporting, but there's also a separate financial statement submission requirement. So to reduce this duplication and to align the Department's ability to review project progress in light of the financial progress of a grant, we are aligning these two separate processes. It's been quite a work coming up to this stage because it has required us working very closely with the National Health and Medical Research Council to update their grants management platform, Sapphire, to allow it to accept financial year financial reporting instead of the calendar year, which NHMRC uses for their own grants and has used for MRFF grants in the past.

Going forward, we will be requiring this financial information over financial reporting timeframes, and from 2024 onwards, we are looking at removing all expenditure financial information from progress reports. There might still be some prospective narrative type information that we still require in reports, but you won't be required to report on expenditure through two separate mechanisms. And these financial reports will now cover the financial year period from July of one year to 30th of June of that financial year. So the NHMRC grantees for MRFF grants would have already received communication to this effect regarding the changes to financial year reports. And if you're having issues with Sapphire or have any questions, please contact the NHMRC MRFF post-award team in the first instance so that they can assist you with any system issues.

The second development in the BGH space that we are working on is on variations. So our first step towards streamlining the variations process for MRFF grants was to bring the BGH-administered grants under the same variation types and variation policies that were being applied to the NHMRC-administered grants. We now have a single policy that's been in use for quite a few months, over a year now for MRFF grants, but we will also be shortly releasing forms and additional guidance documents to help grantees who hold BGH grants, to be able to proactively submit and request these variations in a timely manner. So that should really cut down on some of the submission times and questions that we often get with BGH-administered variations.

The additional developments occurring in the grant management space are the RAO seminars. Now this is an initiative that's different to the RAO webinar series. What we thought would be very essential in HMRO was meeting with the grantees and Eligible Organisation RAOs, and finance officers who administer these grants daily face-to-face. So what the Grants Management Office is doing is holding in-person sessions in all the Department’s state offices over the next year, so we will be developing a schedule and be travelling out to each of the states to meet with the RAOs and finance officers and grantees who are administering MRFF grants to hear from them directly. Any relevant staff are, of course, welcome to attend and we highly encourage the staff to ask us questions as well in relation to any processes, and provide feedback when it comes to post award processes. So these sessions will offer both a group seminar and an individual meeting with each grantee organisation and we are happy to respond to specific process-related questions, in relation to the MRFF grants held.

The session will predominantly focus on post-award grants management, however, depending on staff availability within the Health and Medical Research Office, pre-award topics or other topical areas might be covered in the group seminars from time to time. Additionally, we are also working on a grants management resource website, which is going to be a single source or a webpage with policies, templates, and guidance related to MRFF grants, primarily post-award, located in one place to make it easy for grants management professionals to go to in order to find these resources regardless of the hub that administers their grant. So it's like a one-stop shop for your templates and policies and guidelines to make it easier so you don't have to navigate to separate web pages across the two hubs.

So hopefully these developments and the ability to speak face-to-face with you and meet you in person will allow us to listen to you more proactively and we welcome your feedback and your comments and your questions as well. So we are very looking forward to these RAO seminars. I'll now hand over to my colleague, Associate Professor Cindy Thamrin, to talk through the next part of this presentation.

Cindy Thamrin:

Thanks very much, Ragini. Hi everybody. You've heard from Ruth and Shelley about upcoming grant opportunities and you've heard from Ragini about post-award management and processes. What our section deals with is, if you like, the post post-award side of things. And so as Director of Performance and Evaluation, our remit is to have a look at monitoring of performance and impact of the MRFF as a whole, as well as at the level of individual initiatives and grant opportunities. So we work together with the other sections in order to do this and what might be of particular interest to RAOs and to researchers specifically is the reporting of data or funding statistics related to the MRFF as we build more data capacity and capability.

If you've listened to previous webinars, you'll know that this is something that the Department is actively working towards. Our team in particular has been working very hard to try and improve the reporting of grants data to the public for the purposes of transparency and also for the purposes of monitoring of impact and performance, as well as in response to feedback from you, the RAOs, as well as the researchers that you represent. And so I'll provide you with this. Here is a snapshot of the reports that we've published in recent times. To that purpose, you'll be aware already most of you in fact already make use of this data that we've had a list of grantees with associated grant details available on our website for some time now and that's been available to use publicly on the website. But more recently, our team has been working on specific reports.

The next two, one item on the slide that you see the report on Financial Support for Medical Research and Innovation and the Gender Report are regular reports, and we expect to put these out on a cyclical basis. The Financial, or what we call the Financial Support for Medical Research and Innovation Report, or the Financial Assistance Report for short, is updated every two years consistent with the priorities of the MRFF being updated every two years, in consultation with the sector and as per direction from the Australian Medical and Research Advisory Board.

And the Gender Data Report first came out last year, as some of you may be aware, and it's something that we're hoping to update annually. So these came out in May and August respectively. But in addition to these regular reports, we'll also occasionally put up theme reports in relation to priority topics ongoing, as well as past. In March, we put out a report on the Coronavirus Research Response. And in August, just this month, we put out a report on Rural, Regional, and Remote Health Research. And I'll go into some of these reports in more detail, but today, you'll hear more specifically about the Financial Assistance Report and the Gender Data Report.

So as I said before, we're working on increasing the data that is available to the public because I'll go into the Financial Assistance Report in more detail. I won't touch on it here, but the special theme reports that I talked about, the first being the Coronavirus Research Response Report in March ‘23 and the second being the Rural, Regional, Remote health,  these talk about not just the funding statistics behind the type of grants that we have supported, but we also look at impact and capacity building in these areas. And so do have a look at these reports and they are available on the website and you'll see that the nature of the investigators that have been supported under these two priority research topics as well as the impacts that have been realised.

Rural, Regional and Remote in particular, we hope to demonstrate that, some of you will be familiar that, there have been a number of grant opportunities either via streams or eligibility criteria where we’ve had a particular focus on rural and regional and remote health, and this is where we hope to demonstrate that we have answered to those priorities and hopefully built capacity in those areas or among researchers who deal with rural, regional, and remote health.

So as I said, I want to go into a little bit more detail and provide you with some excerpts from two of the reports that we published recently. One is the Financial Assistance Report, and as I said, this report is updated every two years consistent with priorities of the MRFF and we are required by legislation to report on these, how we have fared against these priorities. Some of the take-homes from that report you'll see are that the MRFF has made significant investments across all broad research areas, ranging from basic science, clinical medicine and science, health services research, as well as public health. And when you take a look at the funded rates, particularly these ones that are focused on the priority areas of the MRFF, you'll find that funded rates are on average above 30%. And so this is also fairly similar across the different broad research areas. Furthermore, you'll also have seen from the Financial Assistance Report that the funded rates overall for men and women researchers tend to be comparable, and this is the case whether you look at all chief investigators regardless of their position on the investigative team, as well as if you look at just the leading chief investigator, although it is slightly, notably within the priority areas, funded rates for women tend to be slightly higher than for men.

And another item of note from the Financial Assistance Report with regards to impact is looking at the papers that have been published, which acknowledge the MRFF. We note that four percent of publications with research supported by MRFF fall within a proportion of top one percent of documents in terms of citations, and this is compared with one percent being the global average. And if you use another metric to measure that impact, namely the rate of citations normalised by the field and the year of publication, you'll also see that MRFF publications tend to have a higher rate of citation compared to the global average. And this may be reflective of the type of research that the MRFF funds, which are those that are closer to the translational stage along the research pipeline. And so we are continuing to monitor these metrics. Again, as we build our data capability and capacity, you'll see this in future reports to come.

One of the things that we want to highlight from the Financial Assistance Report, in case you haven't missed it, please do tell everyone because we know that this is something that the RAOs and researchers have had a huge appetite for and have asked for a lot, which is the funded rates for individual grant opportunities. The Financial Assistance Report was the first instance where we were able to publish funded rates for individual grant opportunities. You can find this in Appendix G of the report. It's available on the website.

And I think one thing to highlight from this is it's apparent because the MRFF, unlike most other funders, there is no single grant scheme or large ticket grant schemes, rather, we have a huge range of grant opportunities that cater to a range of types of research and different areas of the sector. Then correspondingly, any calculation of average funded rates should take into account this heterogeneity. And so hopefully, you can see that funded rates for MRFF grant opportunities can vary quite a lot in terms of low to high success rates. So just something to keep in mind when looking at funded rates for MRFF. I will also give you a heads-up that we will publish an erratum shortly as there were a small number of grant opportunities for which there was a small error identified, so we'll be putting this up on the website very shortly.

And now with regards to the Gender Report, just a few take-homes that we wanted to share with you with regards to the Gender Report, but I encourage you to take a look at the report itself. If you take a look at the summary, basically from data that we have from the inception of the MRFF in 2017 up to the last financial year, on average the funded rates for men and women researchers are comparable just as when we were looking at just grant opportunities that relate to priorities in the Financial Assistance Report. So if you consider all chief investigators, again regardless of their position on the team, then you actually have equal parity between the genders, between men and women researchers. And when you look at leading chief investigators only, in other words CIA, then they are a little bit different but fairly similar between the genders.

But for the first time, we were also able to in this Gender Report, look at annual trends. And so looking at it in terms as a function of financial year, a few highlights from those analyses were that, first of all, the 2021 to 2022 was the first financial year where we saw more women than men apply for funding, both in terms of leading chief investigators on the top left graph here, as indicated in the yellow compared with the red bar graphs for the '21 to '22 financial year, as well as when considering all chief investigators. Again, here you see that the yellow bar indicating women researchers, more of them applied for funding than men researchers in that year. And whether this is driven by particular research, broad research areas or whether this is driven by specific grant opportunities, remains to be seen and we'll be monitoring this over the next years to see whether that is consistent or whether we'll see more balance between the genders, but it is a step in the positive direction to see a gap being met, being covered.

Another point to take home from these observations is that over the years, you'll note from my previous slide and also from this slide, that funded rates were similar between men and women researchers, but this hasn't always been the case. So the annual trends allow you to see in the right-hand graphs that funded rates have actually progressively increased for the MRFF overall, but they have increased more so for women chief investigators, particularly leading chief investigators, such that we now have better balance between the genders. And again, this is something that we'll hope to see to be consistent over the next little bit. And another point to make is that gender balance tends to be more equal when you look at all chief investigators on the team compared to if you're just looking at CIAs suggesting that there are still fewer women led chief investigators applying for the MRFF, but that's again a trend that we are monitoring.

I guess, I just want to bring up a couple more points with regards to the Gender Report, which may be of interest to you and to the sector, to the researchers in general, which is if you look at the balance between genders in terms of both age as well as career stage, in this case what I've shown you on the slide is in terms of years post PhD, then you'll see that more women leading chief investigators applied for funding at a younger age and at an earlier career stage than men, and as you get to the more senior years, there is an attrition in women researchers.

I will caveat this with the fact that we don't have data on career disruption, so that may impact on how this data looks if that were to be taken into account, but as we know, that is complex. But nevertheless, the trend is apparent there. But what is noteworthy is that when you look at, instead of the number of applications in the top graph, you look at funded rates in the bottom graph, then you'll see that funded rates actually tend to be higher for women at the later-career stages as you see it towards the bottom of this graph. And this is something that echoes observations from funders elsewhere, both nationally as well as internationally. Again, something that we're monitoring and if necessary introduce policies to help equalise that gender balance.

But I think that's my last take home from the Gender Report, but I just want to, I guess, end on encouraging you to keep an eye out on the website and in the MRFF newsletter, we'll keep promoting or publicising these reports as they come out. And as I said, it's something that we're actively working towards and happy to take any feedback as well. So with that, I'm going to hand over back to Ragini to talk about the next bit. Thank you.

Ragini Singh:

Thank you so much, Cindy, and very exciting results, I have to say, from that Gender Report. I'm sure the sector and RAOs will be very keen to see the trends that emerge over time as well. Before we progress to the question and answers section of this seminar today, I'd like to touch base briefly on the consultation. So as you're aware, this has been of wide interest to the sector, given its strategic importance, this process of improving alignment between the MRFF and the MREA came to a close in terms of the consultation process,  and we have received over a hundred written submissions, 177 in fact, and this is just an update on where we are with the consultation process so far.

So in essence, we've heard from a broad range of stakeholders. We've heard from researchers from both universities and MRIs. We've heard from businesses, consumers, health providers and services. We've also tried to listen to priority populations and include them in these discussions and ask them for their views and their feedback on the options mentioned within the consultation process paper. We've also heard that there has been recognition that it's very important for Australia to have both an investigator-led and a priority-driven approach to funding health and medical research within the nation. And also the fact that there's a lot of good in both the MRFF and NHMRC models and the good parts need to be retained. We need to build on what works well with both these funds.

We've also heard that end users, especially consumers, want to be involved and have an active role in this reform process. We're currently in the midst of reviewing all the feedback we've received and the submissions we've received, and there will be a report drafted as a result and finalised as a result of this consultation process, which is currently being worked on. We thank you for your engagement with this consultation process. It's a very important time for the MRFF and for NHMRC, and we thank you for all the commitment that you've shown by engaging in this process. So that's just a very brief update in relation to the consultation.

I'd like to now move to question and answers, but before I do, I just want to say that you have the ability to submit your questions in writing on this platform, and as they come through, we'll be triaging them. Any questions that we aren't able to address on the spot here in person today, as we may not have the appropriate Directors to answer all of them, will be taken on notice and they will be published on the website after, in a couple of weeks. So in terms of Q&A, please also look at the previous webinar slides and the recordings which are present on the MRFF webpage because they also answer a number of other questions that come in from time to time. In saying that, I'd like to now open the floor to questions. So if you've got any, please feel free to send them through. Don't have any at the moment. Might just give it a couple of seconds to see.

We've got a few questions come in. The first question that we've received is, will the Medical Research Future Fund be working with the Australian Research Management Society to update the MIA template with the new reporting dates? I can take that one as that's a post-award question. Generally, the MRFF doesn't work with ARMS to update these MIA templates. My understanding, having previously been part of the university sector as an RAO, is that the RAOs engage with each other across the institutions to update the MIA templates as the MIA templates are specific to the organisations and institutions that utilise these.

So the reporting dates will be communicated to the sector and have been communicated to the sector through the NHMRC and RAO alerts through the NHMRC, and we're hoping that the RAOs proactively engage with each other to update any internally relevant questions and templates that those might relate to. I'd also like to highlight that these reporting dates are ones that pertain to NHMRC-administered grants only, not the BGH-administered grants because the BGH-administered grants have a reporting schedule that's different and it's specific to each agreement that it relates to. So for changes to reporting dates, this will be NHMRC-MRFF grant specific.

Another question’s come in. Any updates on the usability of Sapphire for MRFF going forward, especially in terms of RAO oversight of eligibility? There have been a lot of issues with the system lately.

It's important, I guess, for us to be aware of what the system issues are, as we, within Health, don't engage with the system at our end directly. NHMRC does that on our behalf. So questions around issues with the system need to be directed to the hub so you can submit them to the Department as well and we'll be happy to take it up with the NHMRC and discuss what these issues are. But at this point in time, there is no planned update to Sapphire essentially to allow it to review and provide oversight on eligibility. However, at the point that that occurs, it will definitely be communicated to the sector, but no planned updates on that end at this point in time.

Another question, will the Roll of Honour for GAC members be updated? They do an important job and are deserving of recognition. I might see if perhaps Ruth can answer that one.

Ruth Webster:

Sure. Thanks, Ragini. I do know that the... now they've just changed their name, so I'm going to get it wrong - Strategy and engagement team do update this regularly. About a month ago, I did hear about they were going through the latest update. So absolutely the evaluators, the grant assessors do a wonderful job on our behalf. As a prior researcher who sat on GACs, I can testify we understand the hours of effort that's put in, so we do value them. So what I'll do is I'll commit to going back to the Strategy and Engagement team and just chasing up where we're up to and how often we do that, but know that that does happen regularly probably on an annual basis and it is something we are committed to.

Ragini Singh:

Thank you, Ruth. There's also a question about plans to provide more comprehensive feedback on applications to unsuccessful applicants. So Shelley, I might pass that on to you.

Shelley Li:

Thank you, Ragini. So this is actually an issue that's being raised to us through a few rounds of presentations and we know that this is something that the sector is really after. So we have been engaging in projects with both NHMRC and BGH in the background to see what is possible, and we have been trialing out a few different projects that we could potentially roll out. So I think we may have to go back to you with a bit of an update on where that's going. At the moment, we have had to park a few projects because of the ongoing consultation and reform processes at the moment. So there has been a few projects that have been put on hold for the meantime, but we can definitely get back to you on this one.

Ragini Singh:

Thank you for that, Shelley. The next question is, does the number of applications to a grant round inform you of the appetite for, and strength of Australia, in a particular grant round? For example, a high number of applications to the rare disease grant round suggests there's a high capacity and appetite for this field of research and more grant rounds should be offered to support this field. I might pass that one on to Cindy as it sort of relates to the numbers in the report in terms of the number of applications received and the success rates.

Cindy Thamrin:

Thanks, Ragini, and thanks, Lisa, for that question. Yes, it's definitely something that we pay attention to, and we look at how we might improve the MRFF as a whole including at the grant opportunity level. I will point out though that the number of applications isn't the only determinant of what goes into grant opportunity design. Many other factors come into play as well with regards to priorities and other considerations, but it's something that we do learn from and are interested in.

Ragini Singh:

Thank you, Cindy. Ruth, Shelley, would you also like to add to that from your perspective?

Ruth Webster:

I'm happy to comment on that certainly as I think the rare diseases grant round is mine. So yes, we do keep an eye on that and one of the things we do look at is number of submissions. We also look at funding rates. We also look at the quality of the submissions. So we do have access to that data and it does go towards informing how we design future grant opportunities. We do have some limitations in terms of funding envelope, but we also look at how far down the merit list we are funding because we do want to be funding the best applications as well. So there's a number of ways that we look at that data. But yes, the answer is we do look at that data and we do take it into consideration where we can.

Ragini Singh:

Thank you for that, Ruth. There's a question on the Long COVID funding. Is there a date for the Long COVID funding opening? I might pass that to you, Shelley.

Shelley Li:

Thank you, Ragini. So we have announced that the Long COVID, or also known as the post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 grant opportunity, will open by the end of August. So that is currently in the stages of approval. And so I would say to just look out on Grant Connect and stay connected with us on our social media as well, just to make sure that you are informed once that opens, it's in the very final stages. And I would also suggest to those who would be interested in applying for that grant opportunity to look on the website for the research plan because what we'll be putting into the grant opportunity is spelt out very clearly in the research plan in terms of what research topics that may be, the type of grant model that will be used, the quantum as well of the funding, and also how long the projects will be going on for. So I would say to prepare the researchers for those, definitely stay informed with our social media, and look out on our website as well for the research plan.

Ragini Singh:

Thanks, Shelley. There's a question regarding success rates. Is there any reason why success rates for individual initiatives and grant opportunities are not published when outcomes are released rather than being published every two-plus years? Cindy, I think that one's for you, so I'll pass that across.

Cindy Thamrin:

Thanks, Ragini. Thanks for asking that question. Just to clarify, we are working towards publishing success rates or funded rates more so and not just limited to every two years. It's just that the Financial Assistance Report, which is released every two years, was the first time we were able to have enough capacity and capability to do that. Funded rates are based on having data that we need to pull together from a number of sources, and so it is something that we are getting better at and hope to be doing more frequently in the future.

Ragini Singh:

Thanks, Cindy. There are some questions regarding the Business Grants Hub. The first question is whether there is any plan to reduce the administrative organisation details required for portal applications process? Additionally, if the intention is to continue using both Sapphire and the portal, could functionality be improved to allow variations to be submitted through the business portal? So that's a very good question. Thank you for asking. I can take that one on, as it relates to post-award processes. At the moment, the reason we use the two different portals, Sapphire and, is because the systems hubs and processes that relate to MRFF funding being disbursed through these two hubs are very different. So with NHMRC, we have to use Sapphire, which is their grants management system and with BGH, In relation to the organisational information submitted to the Business Grants Hub portal, the reason for that information is because eligibility is checked at application submission time when you're applying for the grant. It's a separate process for NHMRC applications. Essentially that process is when you register as an Eligible Organisation, you're able to reduce the duplication of that information through that mechanism. So unfortunately, these systems and processes are hub-specific, and unless there's a change in the way MRFF administers its grant funding through the hubs, these requirements are unlikely to change at this point in time. However, in saying that, we are constantly working with the two grant hubs to reduce duplication wherever possible, and we will definitely take this feedback on board and see what refinements can be made to the portal to assist with this.

There's another question regarding variations for BGH-administered MRFF grants, asking whether these can be submitted via email or via the variation form on the portal online? We are in the process, again, I can answer this one. We are in the process as mentioned of updating the way variations should be submitted through BGH. There'll be information coming out on this quite soon, so please keep your eyes out on that. It will be communicated to the sector proactively.

Unfortunately, we are out of time, so what I would like to do is go back to the presentation briefly to just take you through the final slide. Any questions we couldn't get to today, we will take on notice and publish on our website in due course. In the meantime, please subscribe to the MRFF news. If you have any particular questions in relation to specific grants, they should be directed to the relevant grants hub. However, general questions and any additional questions you might have for us in particular can be sent to the email address. You can register for upcoming grant opportunity notifications through, and please also follow us on our Twitter account because we do communicate important things through the Twitter account. So thank you again everyone for connecting with us today, and we look forward to you joining us on our next webinar.

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The Health and Medical Research Office hosted this webinar for research administration officers. Topics included:

  • open funding calls under the MRFF
  • MRFF reporting activities
  • post-award grants management.

A questions and answers session followed.

Read the webinar presentation.

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