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We are writing to you to register our very grave concern regarding the ARC’s implementation of an apparently new policy within the current Discovery Scheme round on the reference to pre-prints within grant applications. We are concerned that this will have serious negative consequences on the funding of high quality research within Australia. We understand this has impacted the recently announced DECRA and Future Fellowships, and hope prompt action can be taken ahead of finalising Discovery Projects for funding in 2022.
The pre-print policy is ambiguous
A very subtle change was made in the Instructions to Applicants in ROPE – Research Outputs which changed the sentence ‘Do not include pre-prints in your research output listing’ to ‘Do not include or refer to pre-prints in your application’. By contrast, the Instructions state that research outputs that are accessible to the research community can be referenced in the Project Description. Given that there was no mention of the change either in the Discovery Scheme Grant Guideline Changes or FAQ documents, it is reasonable for applicants to interpret that pre-prints only need to be excluded from the Research Outputs listing, and that they can be referred to elsewhere. Our understanding is that highly-ranked fellowship applications were ruled ineligible because they referenced a pre-print, but did not list it as an output.
The timing of the eligibility check is inefficient and distressing
The eligibility check with respect to this policy is apparently being conducted specifically for the highly ranked applications after assessments have been completed. This is an unnecessary and avoidable waste of the research community’s efforts invested in the process of assessments and rejoinders. Furthermore, it has undoubtably caused extreme distress to unsuccessful applicants who will have had good reason to feel optimistic about their chances. This is particularly concerning for fellowship applicants, many of whom are already in precarious career situations.
The pre-print policy is inconsistent with international standards
Major funding agencies around the world permit and encourage the reference to pre-prints within grant applications. These include the NIH, UKRI, ERC, Wellcome Trust, HFSP, EMBO and others. The ARC currently accepts various non-peer reviewed research outputs , such as Book Chapters or Editorials, to be listed in grant applications. So we would support inclusion of a pre-print section within the Research Outputs. We are confident the ARC’s assessors are capable of assigning appropriate weight to pre-prints when considering applicants’ track records.
We ask the ARC to immediately reconsider the implementation of this policy to ensure it does not negatively influence the outcomes of the current Discovery Project round for funding commencing in 2022 and prevent the ARC from funding the most promising Australian research. We also encourage the ARC to revisit the current pre-print policy for inclusion as research outputs for funding commencing in 2023 and beyond, so that it is in line with international research funders.
The ASPS executive