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More Than Just a Loss of Funding

More Than Just a Loss of Funding

Hone Harawira, MANA Leader and Member of Parliament for Tai Tokerau
Tuesday 11 March 2014

“I have just received a letter written by a woman I hold in the highest regard, a woman of intellectual and academic integrity who is a passionate believer in Māori research excellence contributing positively to the wider society that we know as Aotearoa New Zealand.”

“These are her thoughts about the government’s decision to cut funding to the Māori Centre of Research Excellence, Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga. I doubt that they will make any difference, but I can’t simply sit on such a letter without trying to share it with you.”


OPEN LETTER FROM PROFESSOR LINDA TUHIWAI SMITH:

“Kia Ora, please forgive any spelling or grammar errors.

“It takes years to develop a research infrastructure. It takes years to develop centres of research excellence. Firstly, it takes an excellent education system as researchers must succeed to the highest qualifications in their fields and new researchers need to be trained continuously. It takes the right synergies of knowledge as excellent researchers are trained and supported in diverse knowledge cultures.

“It takes discipline, perseverance and tolerance as researchers learn as much through failure and elimination as they do from success. It takes insight to understand the implications of serendipity. It takes difference and determination to carve out new areas of knowledge that challenge current thinking. It takes a wide community and network of similar minds as researchers learn from each other. It takes vision and stamina to build novel programmes of research that can address complex and inter-related problems. It takes a dose of sheer doggedness to forge a research direction when others want to set out to someplace different or to stay put. It takes an alliance of related systems that review, fund and publish research, that translate it into public knowledge like curriculum, that apply research into other contexts, that produce new or improved practices and products. It takes collaborations across disciplinary, institutional, national and international boundaries to get the best minds and skills available to advance the research. It takes institutional support to provide the best working environment for researchers. It takes institutional and public patience to wait for the next chapter of life changing research. It takes massive investment by the public through education and by the public and others through the funding of research. It takes a certain kind of ambition to persist in the pursuit of knowledge that may not yield quick fixes, widgets and gadgets, or social transformation in this generation and it takes a certain kind of society that believes it important to invest in the continuous development of knowledge for its longer term well-being.

“In my area of Māori research, it took decades to develop the foundations of a single national research infrastructure. It took decades upon decades for Māori to make their way, one by one, through an education system that was not excellent to gain the highest qualifications. It took persistence to survive in knowledge cultures that did not value diversity let alone Māori knowledge. It took vision to focus on producing a critical mass of Māori with the highest academic qualifications from New Zealand and international institutions. It took the largest and possibly the most novel and challenging of collaborations to build a strong network of researchers who would focus their minds and efforts on Māori development. It rounded up all the 'ones' and the 'twos' of Māori researchers scattered across institutions to create a critical community of researchers who could support new research. It established journals, created avenues of engagement with the most suspicious of communities, and stimulated intellectual engagements across disciplines, communities, and languages. It supported research that was explicitly focussed on creating change, on improving outcomes and on developing communities. It had to win institutional support by winning funding.

“It created novel approaches that other centres of excellence borrowed and adapted. It created new methodologies for exploring social and cultural interfaces that are cited in international journals and applied in many other contexts. It's capacity development programme for PhDs is replicated in parts of Canada and the USA at top institutions.

“So what tumbles down when Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga is informed it will no longer be funded? A centre? Some funding? Yes of course, but much more. What tumbles down will cut more deeply into the capacity, momentum, community, system of knowledge, networks, relationships, intellectual excitement that was emerging from this Centre of Research Excellence. What tumbles down is an infrastructure that was built from scratch, from ones and twos, that had no previous models to borrow from, that was truly internationally innovative, multi multi disciplinary, that was producing exciting young scholars footing it internationally and in our own communities. 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. More importantly what tumbles down is a set of beliefs that the research system is genuinely interested in innovation, has a capacity to recognise or know how to support innovation outside its cultural frame, believes in its own rhetoric or actually understands the short term nature of its investments in research.

Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith

Pro Vice Chancellor Māori

Dean of Te Pua Wānanga ki te Ao

The School of Māori and Pacific Development

The University of Waikato New Zealand

Ends

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