I was looking at the recent ARC Discovery outcomes. As you do.
As academics, we’re often told that the Discovery Project success rate is “about 20%”. In the recent DP13 round it was exactly 21.95%. I wondered how that number was calculated and whether that number by itself told the whole story of success or failure in applying for Discovery grants.
The ARC helpfully publishes the number of submitted grants submitted and number of successful grants awarded for each institution. The success rate is comprised of the total number of grants submitted (3425) and the total number of grants awarded (732).
732 / 3425 = .2195
Each university has their own success rate. In this round, Charles Sturt University had the best rate with 7 of 18 grants successful, a 38.89% success rate. James Cook University was next with 32.14% (9/28). But while these are high success rates, they are not high numbers of successful grants. The University of Sydney had the most successful grants 79 of 308 applied for (25.65%) followed by The University of Queensland with 76 successful out of 315 applications (24.13%).
Of course, some universities have much less success, even no success. My own institution, QUT, had a 14.58% success rate, or 14 successful grants out of 96 submitted. And yes, one of those unsuccessful ones was mine.
What this shows is that the 21.37% success rate isn’t really a good way to think about what Discovery grant success and failure looks like. I charted the success rates of each university and added a few summary lines. Some universities are a lot more successful than others.
The top-most (purple) line shows the top quartile of each universities success rates which is 24.12%. The next line down (red) shows the official success rate (21.37%) and the lowest (green) line shows the median of each universities individual success rate (15.38%).
Looking at the average (red) it’s pretty clear that most universities are below average — 24 of 39. That is, 61% of universities had a success rate worse than average. The average success rate is in fact far closer to the top quartile success rate (the top quartile is the top 25% of the data).
The median success rate, 15.38%, is a far more accurate and illustrative way to understand what success and failure mean for Discovery grants than the average success rate for all applications.