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PSA supports stop experimenting with science call

PSA Press Release

Attention: State sector/Employment reporters June 27, 2002

PSA supports call to stop experimenting with science

The PSA endorses the call by John Hay, President of the Association of Crown Research Institutes, for an end to the contestable funding experiment for science funding, PSA national secretary Bryce Fleury said today.

Bryce Fleury said Dr Hay, while speaking at a conference in Palmerston North yesterday, argued that the 100% contestable funding model for CRIs acted like a sword of Damocles hanging over science careers in New Zealand. The PSA, which represents staff working in the CRIs, agrees with Dr Hay that unless there is some certainty and stability built into the system New Zealand science will never be an attractive career option for graduates or as an area in which to stay working.

“Every year around a third of the total funding for public science is reviewed by the Foundation of Research Science and Technology. For some CRIs this can mean that more than half of their programmes are up for re-consideration. This is hugely unsettling for all concerned as project bids have to be prepared, interviews take place, and budget decisions made while scientists wait to hear their fate.”

“Instead of doing science, CRI scientists have to be report writers, marketers, and accountants just to keep their funding to do what they should be doing. It is a nonsense that every year everything is thrown up in the air and scientists have to wait around to see how the pieces will fall.”

Bryce Fleury said the funding model works on the falsehood that science can be treated like a market where players can come in and out at the drop of a hat .

“Scientists undergo years of training, supported by the taxpayer, to achieve a high level of expertise in their specialist field. They cannot change their careers mid-stream just because FRST has chosen a different area of science it now wants to fund. In the most recent funding round there were huge swings between funding areas, as FRST shifted priorities. In one CRI, for example, one programme lost complete funding while another more than doubled its funding. The net result of all this turbulence is that we are now facing immediate redundancies in at least two CRIs and the prospect of more further down the track.”

“This is a complete waste of science talent and investment for the sake of a discredited free market model of funding. Nowhere else in the world does this happen. It is little wonder we are losing our scientists to overseas where there are more stable and certain funding regimes.”

The PSA believes the funding model for public science needs to be reviewed to bring more stability and certainty into the system and will be seeking such a commitment from political parties during the election.

[ends}

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