Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Are Research Priorities Useful?

By Peter Laver

Research priorities can place a greater emphasis on inputs than the potential outcomes.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Most government research funding programs are ostensibly guided by some set of priorities, mainly based on the National Science and Research Priorities or potential linkages with one of the Industry Growth Centres.

The basic rationale for defining priorities is recognition that the research budget is finite, so expenditure should be directed to areas where Australia is seen to have a comparative advantage, either actually or potentially. This allows a critical mass of research activity – people, training, infrastructure and other resources – to be built up rather than seeing the investment spread thinly, making it difficult to reach world leadership status.

This aim is laudable, but are research priorities useful in practice?

Applicants under the broad range of government programs aimed at supporting research and, in some cases, commercialisation will invariably be asked to identify into which of a program’s priorities their proposal falls. Unfortunately this presents a series of dilemmas for those called on to assess the applications and determine which should be funded.

Generality versus Specificity
There are very few STEM-related proposals that could not be fitted into one or more of the very broad National Science and Research Priorities, or the subsets of these used for particular programs. This immediately begs the question...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.