The NHMRC says it is delaying the schedules for 2021 Investigator Grants and Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies (CTCS) schemes to take into account COVID-19 pandemic disruptions this year.
The funding body says it will move its 2021 Investigator Grant round application period to February-March 2021 instead of the original closing date of November 2020. The application period for 2021 CTCS Grants will be delayed to July-August 2021.
In a statement, CEO Professor Anne Kelso said the changes are being made to provide applicants with as much time as possible to plan and prepare applications for the next round of funding, and to avoid scheduling clashes as a result of delays to the Ideas Grant and CTCS Grant schemes in 2020.
“NHMRC is aware that all researchers and support staff continue to be affected, to varying degrees, by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
“These effects include interruptions to research activities, increased workloads for front-line health care workers and public health researchers and increased caring responsibilities, particularly for those based in Victoria. The … changes have been made in response to these impacts.”
According to the NHMRC, the aim is minimise disruption by avoiding scheduling clashes caused by delays to the 2020 Ideas and CTCS Grant rounds wherever possible, limit overlap with national school holidays, the Christmas/New Year break and traditional conference periods, and harmonise key dates with the Australian Research Council 2021 schedule to spread the load on RAOs and applicants to both agencies.
In its statement the NHMRC notes that the 2020 CTCS Grant round was delayed for seven months to accommodate the impact of COVID-19 on researchers involved in the clinical and public health response to the pandemic.
“The revised schedule should ensure that applicants know the outcomes of the 2020 round before applications close for the 2021 round,” it says
It also acknowledges that the delays will mean outcomes for the 2021 Investigator Grant round will not be known before applications close for the 2021 Ideas Grant round. And due to capping rules, this means researchers who apply to both schemes will have their 2021 Ideas Grant applications removed from consideration if they are successful in obtaining a 2021 Investigator Grant.
“This situation is not ideal and NHMRC will seek to separate the two schemes in future years. In view of the continued lockdown in some regions, however, it is hoped that the delayed closing date for the 2021 Investigator Grant round will ensure that all those who wish to apply will have the opportunity to do so.”
The NHMRC has also changing its Relative to Opportunity policy and peer review processes to recognise the delays and impacts of COVID-19 on Australia’s health and medical research community.