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The Federation Fellowship program: the state of play

By Alex Reisner - posted Monday, 15 April 2002

One of the commitments made by the Federal Government in Backing Australia's Ability was "to attract and retain leading researchers in key positions, [and] part of the new funds to be provided [are] for national competitive research grants [which] will be used to introduce 25 new Federation Fellowships worth $225,000 a year for five years." The administration of those fellowships and vetting the applications for them has fallen to the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Just prior to the change of the guard last November, the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the then Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, David Kemp, announced that of the 25 Federation Fellowship places, 15 had been filled. The 10 left vacant have been carried over and are now the subject of a second round of applications.

The ARC puts the matter succinctly:


Selection Process

Applications were assessed by a special committee drawn from the Expert Advisory Committees of the ARC.

Selection Criteria

The primary assessment criteria for Fellowships were:

  • investigator (60%)
  • significance and innovation (20%)
  • approach (10%), and
  • national benefit (10%).

Summary of Outcomes

There were 181 applications for Federation Fellowships, of which 15 were awarded support.

Of those 15 awardees, 8 are resident Australians, 6 had been expatriates for varying lengths of time, and one is a German national who since 1992 had been at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm.

A complete list of the successful applicants together with two-page summaries of their qualifications and research interests are available online.


It is not the point of this article to judge the quality of the appointments, quite simply I would not be qualified to do so, but there are several matters that are striking and worthy of comment.

  • Just over 8 per cent of the applicants were considered of sufficient standard to warrant the awarding of a fellowship.
  • The ARC's selected set of statistics doesn't disclose what percentage of applicants were resident in Australia, how many were expatriate and how many foreign nationals were sufficiently attracted by the fellowships to lodge an application – were those data released and sufficiently detailed, they might be quite instructive.
  • What we do know is that so far only 8 Australian residents qualified for Federation Fellowships while 7 individuals resident overseas were considered to be of sufficient calibre to meet the objectives of the fellowship plan*. In short, 40 per cent of the places went unfilled.

To call the Federation Fellowship scheme a failure at this juncture would be premature, but if the aim of the program is to galvanise Australian academe, neither does it give the impression of being a strong starter. And that's serious and very worrying. Quite simply, the carrot doesn't appear to be that attractive to the best the academic world has to offer.

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About the Author

Dr Alex Reisner is editor of The Funneled Web.

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