Lottery for Research Grants Backed by New Zealand Academics

Times Higher Education, February 20, 2020 | Go to article overview

Lottery for Research Grants Backed by New Zealand Academics


Researchers support funder’s random allocation of research grants by a two-to-one margin, study says

Academics who took part in the world’s first major research grant programme to use a lottery to award funding have backed the method.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand has used a “modified lottery” since 2013 to award grants of NZ$150,000 (£74,900) under its Explorer grants programme to scholars with a “transformative research idea with the potential for major impact”. If an applicant’s idea was deemed innovative and viable by an expert panel, their application was entered into a lottery, with funding allocated randomly until the scheme’s budget was exhausted.

Now a review of the system, published in the journal Research Integrity and Peer Review, has found applicants were two-to-one in favour of the lottery system – regardless of whether their bids were successful or not.

According to the paper by researchers from Australia, New Zealand and the UK, 63 per cent of 126 respondents who applied to the Explorer scheme between 2013 and 2019 approved of the lottery system, and 25 per cent who did not.

The results are likely to intensify the debate over the cost, transparency and fairness of allocating research funds using peer review. In 2018, a reviewby consultants Rand Europe found that there was evidence that this near-ubiquitous process of awarding grants by peer review in health sciences stifled innovative thinking, was costly and led to cronyism and bias against older researchers.

Peer-reviewed lottery allocation can, the new paper suggests, “minimise the problems of sexism, racism and ageism influencing who receives funding” and “may also increase fairness and support more meritorious ideas”.

“Lotteries also explicitly acknowledge the role of chance in winning funding, which occurs because the review process is somewhat random because of the selection and availability of peer reviewers,” add the authors. …

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