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University backs comments on impact of funding decision


14 March, 2014

University backs comments on impact of funding decision

The University of Waikato is supporting one of New Zealand’s senior Māori academics who has criticised the decision to stop funding Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga, the country’s only Māori Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE).

Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, who was founding co-director of Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga and is Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori and Dean of the School of Māori and Pacific Development at the University of Waikato, says the decision by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) puts at risk research capacity, infrastructure and “a set of beliefs that the research system is genuinely interested in innovation”.

Professor Smith, who was one of 22 international scholars to be made a fellow of the American Educational Research Association this week, says the TEC decision impacts on more than just Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga.

The decision “will cut more deeply into the capacity, momentum, community, system of knowledge, networks, relationships (and) intellectual excitement that was emerging”.

“What tumbles down is a national infrastructure that could support Māori development across a range of dimensions that simply cannot be provided for by existing institutions,” she says.

University of Waikato Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Alister Jones says the University supports Professor Smith’s comments and she “raises some important points about the decision”.

While the decision making process may have been robust and based on research excellence, “we are in danger of missing out on what are the true needs of New Zealand”.

The TEC had also decided not to fund a CoRE for fresh water research and that decision, combined with the snubbing of Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga, meant the biggest issues the country faced were being overlooked.

Professor Jones says there seemed to be some confusion around Centres of Research Excellence and the National Science Challenges.

“The Government has two funding processes and some of the biggest issues facing New Zealand have fallen between the two.”

Fresh water, he says, is the “biggest issue of our time” which required more than a purely scientific solution.

“It involves legal, indigenous, science, the whole range. It requires an economic, social, cultural and environmental approach.”

Current funding of fresh water research was coming to an end and that brought its own risks, Professor Jones says.

“We are now in danger of losing overseas our key freshwater expertise because while this is a national issue, it’s also a global problem,” he says.

Last week the University of Waikato hosted a successful Fresh Water Fresh Thinking forum in Wellington with six researchers from different faculties, highlighting the expertise available and the multi-disciplinary approach required to tackle the serious issues around fresh water.

The University of Waikato had followed the Government’s call for more collaboration and had been working with other universities and Crown Research Institutes and was engaging with the public through schools, community groups and other stakeholders.

“We want to create a science literate population to make rational decisions on our future and we may have lost some of that opportunity.”



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