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University staff warn against interference

The Association of University Staff (AUS) says that academic research must be free of political interference, in a response to the announcement today by the Government that it is to seek a report from the Marsden Fund into the background of its decision-making processes, .

The decision to seek the report follows criticisms from National Party MP, Dr Paul Hutchison, including comments that that funding is going towards research on topics associated with sex and that $9 million of the $38 million of Marsden funding this year went to projects associated with nine members of the judging panel.

The Marsden Fund allocates annually public money from a contestable pool to researchers in order to build New Zealand’s fundamental research knowledge base, contribute to the global advancement of knowledge, and broaden and deepen the research skill base in New Zealand.

AUS National President, Professor Nigel Haworth, said that Marsden funding was allocated on the basis of internationally refereed research proposals, and administered by internationally respected, senior researchers.

Professor Haworth said that Dr Hutchison’s assertion that research funding appeared to be going to “nebulous” subjects rather than to others such Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, is an ill-judged and regrettable attack on the credibility and reputation of some of New Zealand’s leading academics, and was perilously close to an attack on academic freedom.
“Academic staff and students in New Zealand have the duty and right to engage in research and to regulate the subject matter of academic courses free from political interference” said Professor Haworth. “Academic staff conform to the highest ethical standards in exercising their academic responsibilities, and it is an affront to those standards and people for Dr Hutchison to make claims, which, on the face of things, seek to direct Mardsen funding allocation to subjects approved by the National Party. This type of politicisation of research will be noted internationally and will rebound on New Zealand in terms of its ability to recruit top-class scholars and become involved in international research efforts”

The Mardsen Fund has measures in place to ensure protections against potential conflicts of interest between the judging panel and research applications they may be associated with.

Ends

For further information or comment please contact:
Professor Nigel Haworth
AUS National President
Phone (09) 373 7599, extension 85235 (work)
(09) 376 6359 (home)
Mobile 021 637 599
Email n.haworth@auckland.ac.nz

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