Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brain drain fear as projects die for funds By Adam Cresswell

 More than half the grant applications to Australia's top medical research funding body are being rejected simply because there is not enough money to go around — risking an exodus of talent overseas.

                                                                                                       Photo: ABC News/Eleni Psaltis

 A new report has found the only category of applications to grow from 2004 to 2009 were those deemed "fundable, but not funded" — indicating they were rejected despite having been assessed by experts as worthwhile.
 In 2009, this group moved to claim more than half of all grant bids for the first time, accounting for 58 per cent of all applications lodged with the National Health and Medical Research Council.
 Yet the $713 million the NHMRC received from the federal government grew by less than inflation in 2010-11 and is due to be eroded further in coming years.
 The figures are highlighted in a report due to be issued today by Research Australia, which is calling on the government to guarantee the NHMRC inflation-proofed 4 per cent budget increases to protect Australia's scientific expertise and future medical discoveries.
 The 83-page report warns that Australia is slipping behind the medical research investments made by China, South Korea and Singapore and questions why our medical research funding remained static in 2009 compared with Britain and the US, despite those two countries' economies shrinking or remaining static.
 Research Australia chairwoman Christine Bennett told The Australian the leap in the proportion of worthwhile applications being rejected by the NHMRC meant the country's research capacity would be "put in jeopardy if we don't maintain the funding". The report shows this is already slipping in real terms, with projections the NHMRC budget will fall by 1 per cent after adjustment for inflation in 2012-13, and by a further 3 per cent in 2013-14.
 "We have built a capacity for excellence that's not being taken advantage of," Dr Bennett said.
 "Many of those researchers will move offshore, but an even greater concern is that they will move from research altogether into other endeavours.
 "They are real people, with real-life needs like mortgages.
 "They are incredibly committed and passionate, but at the end of the day, if we want them to focus on what we have trained them to do, there needs to be a clear pathway of funds to bid for."
 The report found Australia punches above its weight in medical research, contributing 3 per cent of global research studies with only 0.3 per cent of the world's population.
 An Access Economics report in 2008 found that every dollar invested in medical research returned $2.17 to the Australian economy in health benefits.
 A spokeswoman for federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler defended current funding, saying there "has never been more money invested in medical research in this nation than there is today".
 "The government is undertaking an independent review into health and medical research which will be overseen by an expert panel of prominent individuals with experience in and understanding of business, research and health service delivery," the minister's spokeswoman said.


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