The 2013 ARC Discovery Success (and Failure!) Rate

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.

Bar and line chart of ARC Discovery DP13 Success Rates showing university success rates and average, 1st quartile and median.

ARC Discovery DP13 Success Rates

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.

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3 thoughts on “The 2013 ARC Discovery Success (and Failure!) Rate

  1. Pingback: Actual dollars granted (ARC Discovery 2013) | Not Easily Obvious

  2. Hi Ben

    I’ve been quietly trying (unsuccessfully, I might add) to get people to talk about the percentage of funding, rather than the raw number of grants awarded.

    Most uni’s just want to talk about how many grants they got. “We got 12, they got 9”, etc. Sometimes it gets slightly more nuanced: “We got 12 of 20, they got 9 of 10”.

    However if your 12 grants all received 20% of what they asked for (that is, 20% of the requested budget), then they probably just scraped over the line. If your 12 grants all got 80% of requested budget, then they were probably in the top-ranked grants in the list.

    That is not the whole story, of course. The ARC is sometimes trimming perceived ‘fat’ from the budget, rather than just trimming budgets to preserve the precious 20% success rate.

    However, I think that it is a better quality measure than raw numbers. Of course, it is only a quality measure that you can use for the grants you get. An individual can measure their own grants that way, and an institution can measure their own passel of grants that way. But you can’t compare between researchers or between institutions, since the dollars requested isn’t published.

    It could be though. Nothing really stopping the ARC from doing it, say, at an institutional level (well, nothing but the screams of the VCs, I guess). And then we would have comparable figures (for institutions). We would also know how much of the total budget requested of the ARC (that is, how much money the researchers in Australia think they need) is actually being funded by the ARC.

  3. Pingback: Culling Grant Applications: Heartless Killing or Act of Mercy? | The Research Whisperer

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