Mid-term evaluation of the Access to World Leading Astronomy Infrastructure program

Date published:
4 June 2024

In 2023, the department commissioned ACIL Allen to evaluate the appropriateness, efficiency, effectiveness, and early impacts of the Access to World Leading Astronomy Infrastructure (AWLAI) program.

Established in 2018, the AWLAI program enabled the government to: 

  • enter a 10-year strategic partnership with the European Southern Observatory (ESO)
  • transfer the scientific operations of the former Australian Astronomical Observatory (including the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT)) to the domestic research sector.

The evaluation found the strategic partnership with the ESO has achieved its intended outcomes of ensuring access to large telescopes and maintaining world-leading astronomy and instrumentation expertise in Australia. The strategic partnership has:

  • increased Australia’s access to ESO facilities, creating workforce and training opportunities including for students and postdoctoral fellows
  • increased collaboration between Australian and international researchers, Australia’s international competitiveness, and the quality and quantity of scientific output
  • enabled access to and awards of commercial tenders, enhanced industry collaboration, and the commercialisation of astronomy technical expertise.

It was found that Australia’s return on investment to 2023 from the strategic partnership is neutral. However, this likely underestimates the full benefit of Australia’s involvement in the strategic partnership, including broader socio-economic impacts, knowledge advances and innovations arising from astronomy research.

The evaluation found that the AAT is a well-built, high-quality facility that continues to generate valuable scientific output. However, it is oversubscribed and, because of its age, is no longer considered world-class.