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Marsden Fund Crucial to Universities

For immediate release 27 September 2006

Marsden Fund Crucial to Universities

Universities, the largest contributors to New Zealand research and development, have come out in strong support of the excellence-driven Marsden Fund which enables cutting-edge, investigator-initiated research by the country’s top researchers.

The Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, the representative body for New Zealand’s eight universities, says the $38 million annual fund is intended to retain top level researchers in this country while attracting able young people to the national research effort and enhancing the international reputation of New Zealand research.

The fund has a special role within Vote Research, Science and Technology in funding not only the traditional sciences, but also social science, humanities, culture and arts-related research, according to NZVCC Research Committee chair Professor David Skegg. As such it was crucial to the international standing of the New Zealand university system.

“While current criticism of the fund centres on the application selection process, it needs to be appreciated that top-level research is best assessed by leading academics operating through a system of international peer review. The problem with the Marsden is that the fund itself is far too small. Inevitably many outstanding applicants are disappointed. It is sad if that disappointment leads a few to question the integrity of the process.

“The fact that most allocations from the Marsden Fund go to traditional science is also being overlooked in the current debate. One research project to receive funding worth $720,000 in this year’s round will investigate hydrocarbon seeps and chemosynthesis, along with the impacts on geology, biology and the oceanic environment.”

Professor Skegg says the fund is a small proportion of total public expenditure on research in New Zealand yet allows the country’s leading academics to put forward proposals they believe will advance their field. It is the only source of funding for untargeted research which could lead to profound or unexpected discoveries. “As such, the Marsden Fund needs a much greater investment to maximise the potential of the country’s established and emerging researchers.”

ENDS

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