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Research Funding Should "Support Academic Freedom

Research Funding Should "Support Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom Aotearoa supports the minister’s desire to place "a higher value on research that meets user needs", but we are concerned that those who offer "research funds and contract research" will have their needs met at the expense of the rest of New Zealand society, says Academic Freedom Aotearoa chairperson Professor Jack Heinemann.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce's announcement today acknowledging the flaws in the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF), a mechanism of distributing funding to universities and other research-oriented tertiary institutions, is timely. He states he is reviewing PBRF to simplify "the research assessment process, saving time and reducing costs", reforms that researchers and academics have called for since its introduction over a decade ago. He promised to ‘clarify the objectives of PBRF’.

"Its about time that this massive fund had clear objectives," says Professor Heinemann. "And hopefully those objectives will serve all stakeholders equally well. So far, I don’t believe that they have."

"We hope that the Minister will formally recognise the important role of the critic and conscience of society. He could tie some PBRF funding to this fundamental role," Professor Heinemann said.

"When academic staff and students serve as critic and conscience they may from time-to-time challenge government, industry and civil society agendas and thereby fall out of favour with those wealthy enough to offer grants and contracts. But the critic and conscience role helps to create space for new ideas and new entrepreneurs as well as prevent poor policy and products” said Professor Heinemann.

"To do nothing now to promote the role of the critic and conscience would be to prolong the life of a funding mechanism that encourages conformity and obedience, rather than innovation and novelty."


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