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Lean and inequitable funding for planning research in Australia

New article in The Conversation by UQ|UP team: Australian cities are crying out for better planning, but the research funding is missing


  • Dorina Pojani
  • Jaime Olvera-Garcia
  • Jason Byrne
  • Neil Sipe

Read the full article in The Conversation.


The Australian Research Council (ARC) provided only A$31.7 million for 91 urban and regional planning research projects between 2010 and 2018. That amounted to an average of A$17,970 per academic per year. The likelihood of being awarded an ARC grant was considerably higher for more more senior male planning academics. Professors received more than twice as many grants as associate professors. Associate professors in turn received about twice as many grants as senior lecturers. While males were the lead investigators on 59 ARC grants between 2010 and 2018, females led only 32 grants. Although differences were small among lecturers, the “funding gender gap” broadened considerably at the professorial levels. Male professors held 6.4 times as many ARC grants as female professors, although there were only 2.7 times more male professors than female professors. ARC grants seemed to “snowball” (holding one grant substantially affected the chances of winning another) and tended to cluster around certain individuals. The concern here is that an “old boy network” effect may be in place.

Why the gender gap? Male-dominated grant review committees tend to evaluate women, especially younger women, more harshly. In the ARC College of Experts, which evaluates grant applications, only 70 of the 176 members – 40% – are female. Inequitable allocation of ARC research funding is problematic is every discipline but especially so in urban planning due to the sexism inherent in urban development. Virtually everything in our cities – streets, squares, parks, buildings – has been designed and shaped by men. Nearly all of the references for urban best practices, as taught in Australian universities, are written by men. What would urban planning research and practice be like if it were female-led? Might cities become less car-dependent and more cycling-friendly? Might they have fewer dark alleys and more sunlit parks and kindergartens? We could begin to answer some of these questions if research funding for female planning academics was prioritised.