The Australian National University was behind two of five research grant applications recently rejected by the government on national security grounds, a parliamentary committee has heard.
The probe into national security risks affecting the higher education system has learned the Australian Research Council pushed back on research grants following concerns by the national intelligence community.
Of the 18 research grants referred to the Department of Home Affairs by then-education minister Dan Tehan, five had been recommended for rejection.
The committee heard from Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt on Friday morning, who admitted the Canberra university had been involved in two of the applications the government had been recommended to knock back.
"We had two grants refused," Prof Schmidt said.
"We were told, 'national security grounds'. I believe that was the fullness of the answer."
In response to being knocked back, Prof Schmidt said the university was now conducting its own grant assessments before it submitted to government.
It had also reviewed the two rejected grant applications and determined while one had failed the university's own process, the other did not.
"We [assess grants] at the beginning of that process now [and] those assessments revealed to us that one of the grants would have failed our processes," he said.
"The other grant, we would have asked for more information, but we believe would not have failed our processes and we do not have any indication why it failed, or that it should have failed."
University of Technology Sydney vice-chancellor Attila Brungs said one of its research grant applications had formed one of the five rejected.
It was not known what universities were associated with the final two research grants that were rejected.
The research council, who also appeared before the committee on Friday, explained it flagged research applications based on reports in the media as well as "sensitivities" it would not expand on.
"The ARC scans media and looks for issues in relation to researchers," said Kylie Emery, the council's branch manager.
"That might be around who they've collaborated with or whether they have links with overseas countries, which might not be beneficial to Australia."
Ms Emery said the council had largely dealt with ASIO regarding research grant applications deemed as having national security implications but had
"Since probably May , we have been actively working with the Department of Home Affairs to increase ... the level of processes we have in place," Ms Emery said.
"That included collecting ... more information in relation to researchers and their affiliations and interests for the grant cycle that opened in September last year."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: