International scholars could be barred from Future Fellowships

World-class international scholars could be excluded from Future Fellowships under possible rule changes for the prestigious mid-career research awards, Senate Estimates heard today.

The head of the Australian Research Council confirmed that a move to give Australian researchers priority could mean international researchers – who currently make up about 10 per cent of successful applicants, or 20 researchers a year – would be excluded.

Under questioning from Shadow Research Minister Senator Kim Carr, ARC CEO Professor Aidan Byrne confirmed new rules were being formulated that could restrict applications to Australian citizens.

Senator Carr: Is it being considered to restrict applicants to Australian citizens?

Professor Byrne: … we’re considering that as an option.

Senate Estimates, 5 June 2014

Senator Carr said he was particularly proud that under the previous Labor Government so many international scholars had been attracted to Australia.

He gave examples of award-winning scientist born overseas who might not qualify if the rules changed to restrict foreign nationals.

They include:

  • Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt (USA)
  • Inventor of Gardisal cervical cancer vaccine Ian Frazer (UK)
  • 2013 Physical Scientist of the Year Andrea Morello (Italy), who is working with silicon components to make quantum computing possible.
  • 2011 Life Scientist of the Year Min Chen (China), the unquestioned world expert on the biology and biochemistry of photosynthetic cyanobacteria that utilise alternative pigments to chlorophyll a.
  • 2008 Life Scientist of the Year Carol Vinuesa (Spain), whose research has revealed key steps in how our immune system produces high-quality, long-lasting antibodies to fight disease.
  • 2007 PM Prize Winners Dr Peter Waterhouse (UK) and Dr Ming Bo Wang (China), who, while investigating how plants respond to virus attack at CSIRO Plant Industry in Canberra, discovered a new way to control plant genes by using the plant's own viral defence mechanisms.
  • 2006 Prime Minister's Prize for Science Professor Mandyam Veerambudi Srinivasan (India) whose work on bees is helping with robotics applications in aircraft.

“The Future Fellowships are a major source of new talent for Australia,” Senator Carr said after the hearing.

“It would be short-sighted and narrow-minded in the extreme to limit applications to Australian citizens only.

“Is this the new xenophobic path that the Abbott Government wants to take us down?

“If it is, it would be another backward step from a government which has no science minister, no science policy and no understanding of the benefits of scientific research.”


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