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Medical research held back by inefficient funding system

Photo: Medical research held back by inefficient funding system
Australian medical research is being held back due to inefficient and inequitable funding systems.

Medical research institutes are being left with a large funding gap each year as research grants only cover part of the full cost of doing research.

“Funding bodies like to tie their grants to one lab, or one project, but they are not providing enough support to cover all the other indirect costs involved in supporting research.” said Professor Tony Cunningham AO, President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI).

“These indirect costs are everything that’s needed to support what is going on in the lab. This includes providing IT services, data analysis and storage, running business development units, building services and utilities. We have the figures on this, for every $1 spent on research, a further 54 cents of funds are needed for these indirect costs.” he said.
“Think of it like baking a cake, people keep giving you eggs and flour, but no one has given you a tin to bake it in.”

In response to an inquiry from the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training which is investigating the efficiency, effectiveness and coherency of the Australian Government funding for research, AAMRI is taking the opportunity to shed light on this issue.

AAMRI has found the level of support provided by the government for these indirect costs is too low and it leaves a significant burden on medical research institutes to make up the gap so that science can happen. As government support for these costs is on average around 23 cents for every dollar spent on research, institutes have to find a further 31 cents, leaving a funding gap of $247 million.

The issue affects all institutes of every size – in fact the more successful an institute is at getting research grants the bigger the financial gap.

Not only is the level of support for indirect costs inadequate, but the current system of support is highly complex, with different levels of funding available depending on the type of research organisation receiving the grant.

Professor Cunningham said that it wasn’t a level playing ground, and that “AAMRI wants to see a system where the cost of research is fully supported, irrespective of where it is being undertaken.

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