CRUNCH DAY FOR SCIENCE FUNDING
By Richard Harman (author)
The Government will release its National Statement of Science Investment today against a background of ongoing criticism of its unwillingness to fund science.
The statement was published in draft form last year and has been open for comment rom the science community.
Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has indicated to POLITIK that he is concerned about the level of private sector investment in science and suggested the statement may address this issue.
But meantime Labour’s Sconce and Innovation spokesperson David Cunliffe says the statement is the Government’s last chance to avert disaster in our science and research sector.
“Since Steven Joyce released the draft NSSI in May last year, he has gone on a spree of mergers and cuts that have rocked universities and research institutes to the core.
“The latest example was the slashing of 90 jobs at AgResearch. This was senseless and slammed by the sector.
“Former AgResearch leader Professor Ken McNatty called it ‘a national shame’ and the ‘largest loss of scientific talent’ since World War Two.
“The New Zealand Association of Scientists has called out the Minister for his obvious lack of long-term vision for research science in this country.
“Even the Prime Minister’s own Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, can see that the contestable funding model is broken and is stymying our national research output.”
The Wellington economic consultancy MOTU has been looking at science funding in New Zealand and makes the point that New Zealand spends less money on research, relative to its size, than three-quarters of the countries in the OECD.
In a report published last Friday and commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment it says the government is considering expanding public funding to narrow this gap.
Last week the Crown Research Institute AgResearch announced that 83 jobs across the country would disappear in a proposed restructure, although at the same time 27 new jobs would be created.
The cuts came hard on the heels of losses in the 2014-15 year, when 10 scientists resigned and 15 were made redundant, while the services of 15 technicians were dispensed with.
Federated Framers said that the further job cuts at AgResearch backed up their concern that science capability in agriculture continued to be eroded through inadequate funding and a lack of strategic planning.
“Agriculture science is a long term investment which is difficult for governments on a short term three year election cycle, but we owe it to our future farmers, and all New Zealanders, to make the investments now, develop our capability and build the basic sciences which provide the necessary grunt to ensure commercialisation of innovation is optimised,” Federated Farmers President Dr William Rolleston said.
“We appreciate that AgResearch needs to ensure its capacity aligns with the work it has ahead of it, but the continual downsizing at AgResearch is a symptom of this bigger problem.”
The Feds said they believed that agricultural science capability was at a low ebb in New Zealand and that there was a lack of coordinated strategic planning in place.
“We need a plan which will rebuild our science capability and give more responsibility to our CRIs as outlined in the CRI Taskforce Report (2010).
“The taskforce recommended core funding for CRIs and more decision making at the institution level. While this has happened, the development of the National Science Challenges has tied up a significant proportion of core funding and makes governance responsibility unclear. ”
“Government have the opportunity to turn the tide with outcome of the core funding review where we would expect to see an increase in core funding which has not been inflation ADjusted since it was instituted.”
It is these issues that will be addressed today.