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No Problems with Foundation Decisions

No Problems with Foundation Decisions

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has strongly rejected claims by two Lincoln University Scientists that their research proposals for funding were declined because they “did not focus enough on Maori”.

The Foundations says the ‘Healthier Animals’ (including sheep footrot) proposal by Dr Jon Hickford of Lincoln University and the “Light-coloured Paua’ proposal by Associate Professor Frank Sin were not declined government funding because of poor Maori focus. But it says both proposals were rejected simply because they failed to measure up against the seven assessment criteria that focus on the potential benefits to New Zealand and on the proposals critical success factors.

The Foundation’s Group Manager of Investment Operations, Peter Benfell says expert advisory panels are used to make these assessments. The assessment criteria include the science merit of the proposal, the track record and capability of the research team, the connections and partnerships with the likely end-users of the research (such as industry), and the case the applicant has made about the national benefits that will result from the research. These benefits can be economic, environmental or social, depending on the nature of the research.

Peter Benfell says the Foundation receives applications that far exceed the funding available and typically the funding sought is three to five times the money that the Foundation has available. He says therefore the application process is very competitive and this results in winners and losers.

“The first step in decision-making is to select a short-list of proposals for more detailed assessment. Maori related factors are not considered in determining the short-list as all projects must first demonstrate a satisfactory case against the main assessment criteria. Both the Hickford and Sin proposals were not short-listed because they did not score as well as many other proposals against the seven assessment criteria.”

“In addition to the seven assessment criteria, we consider short-listed proposals against several other factors. One of these factors can be ‘Maori Responsiveness’. It has been claimed that all research proposals are assessed for Maori Responsiveness. This is not the case as we only assess this factor if the proposal has made a Maori Responsiveness case and this factor is only considered in the final assessment of short-listed proposals. We do not expect all proposals to make a Maori Responsiveness case and in fact, only a relatively minor proportion of all proposals do so”.

Peter Benfell says the Hickford and Sin proposals did claim to respond to and deliver specific benefits for Maori and because of this, these cases were assessed, along with others who had made Maori Responsiveness cases. Although the Hickford and Sin cases were not strong, it is important to note that this factor played no part in the decision to decline these proposals because consideration of Maori Responsiveness is only applied on short-listed proposals. We did provide feedback to Hickford and Sin on this aspect of their proposals so they may learn from the experience.

According to Peter Benfell, the Foundation seeking to increase Maori involvement in R&D because currently the participation by Maori in R&D is very low. “The Foundation has set targets for most research areas of funding projects that have good specific benefits to Maori, as well as general benefits for all New Zealanders. Generally these targets are between 5 and 10% of the total funding available in a research area. We have set these targets because we are committed to supporting the development of Maori scientists and researchers, involving more Maori in R&D, and also to Maori benefiting more from the R&D undertaken in our country. We believe this is an important element in New Zealand becoming a more prosperous nation. I wish to emphasise that these targets are exactly that. We will not be lowering the standards of research we fund in order to meet these targets and we may need to work towards achieving these targets over a number of years”, says Peter Benfell.

He says the Foundation is committed to funding R&D that maximises the benefits of these investments to New Zealand and says it uses a decision making process that is robust, transparent and fair.

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