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Universities’ Science Funding Concerns Confirmed

20 July 2006

Universities’ Science Funding Concerns Confirmed

Documents released this week by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology confirm that university research will be held back by a reduction in contestability for three key areas of science funding.

The three areas – the New Economy Research Fund, Research for Industry and Environment – comprise 75 per cent of the foundation’s investment portfolio. For the next two years up to 30 per cent of reinvestment in research contracts for these funds will be awarded on a negotiated basis rather than being contestable.

Strict eligibility requirements will result in only one university programme qualifying for negotiated funding in this two-year period. Professor David Skegg, Otago University Vice-Chancellor and chair of the NZVCC’s Research Committee, says this situation effectively curtails universities’ contribution to the national science effort.

“It is particularly unfortunate that such a curtailment will occur following a period when universities’ share of FRST funding has been growing as a result of university staff producing excellent research.”

A recent report from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology highlighted the nature of this contribution over the past decade with annual university expenditure on research and development increasing by an average of 10 per cent against an average of seven per cent for the science sector as a whole.

The NZVCC’s principal concern about the new science funding arrangements is that the need for change has not been demonstrated and none of the documents released by FRST allay this concern.

Professor Skegg says the science funding changes emphasise the need for increased government investment in research and development. Without such an investment, the universities’ contribution to the national science effort will not be optimised. Further, FRST documents indicate that further reductions in contestability are likely to occur in the three key science funding areas after the initial two-year phase.

ENDS

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