The government has just released a draft National Statement of Science Investment, which summarises the current state of the science sector in New Zealand. It is great to see that MBIE are giving some thought to these issues.
My comments to the Science Media Centre yesterday were:
It is great to see the new National Statement of Science Investment being released today. There have been a number of concerns in the scientific community about the rate of change in the science sector in recent years, as acknowledged today by Minister Joyce, and in particular the impact of new funding mechanisms on the success and validity of established funding mechanisms. The distinction and relationship between the Centres of Research Excellence and the National Science Challenges is a particularly relevant example. It is excellent that MBIE are starting to think about these issues.
The major change to the science funding system that we may see was called a ‘refinement’ of the contestable funding system by the Minister today. It is notable that in the report it is left very open ended what this may mean: focusing funds on relevant research should not come at the cost of transparency, such as we have seen with the National Science Challenge processes. On the other hand, the importance of ‘contest’ in supporting emerging opportunities is acknowledged. This is exactly the loss that cutting the FRST postdoctoral fellowships has meant for science in New Zealand, and we hope that this signals a new willingness to consider the merits of a nationally competitive postdoctoral funding programme.
Minister Joyce was very explicit today that this document is out for consultation, the results of which will be left for the incoming government to deal with later this year. I very much hope that whatever feedback is received, it is taken seriously by whatever government we then have: it is past time for us to have a broad bipartisan consensus on the importance of science funding and the transparency of its major mechanisms. The New Zealand Association of Scientists would encourage all scientists to engage seriously with the consultation process, in the hope of putting an end to the disruptions and inefficiencies that have characterised the last few years of the science sector in New Zealand.
I would like to reinforce that last part of my comments here. The timeline for consultation is reasonably long, and the NZAS will be putting in a detailed submission by the deadline of the 22nd of August. I'd like to encourage all our members, and indeed all scientists in New Zealand to contribute to the NZAS submission by emailing me at email@example.com, or contacting any member of Council.
I'd also encourage you to consider making your own submission. The form is available here, and submission of feedback is a simple process - you can simply email your thoughts to NSSI@mbie.govt.nz with or without using their suggested question and answer format.
At the launch of the document, Steven Joyce left open the possibility of significant increases in the Marsden Fund, but claimed that he had not been hearing requests for it to be increased. He also made clear that he would need to hear suggestions of where any reallocation of funds would be made from: would we be happy to see the Marsden Fund doubled at the cost of a reduction in MBIE contestable funding? In the funding of the National Science Challenges, or of the PBRF funding pool?
Let us know your thoughts - ideally we would like to get your feedback by the start of July in order to compile a detailed and useful submission. There is room for us to hope that our ideas will be incorporated in the final version of this strategic document - I noted with some amusement that a phrase from an email I sent Steven Joyce on the 7th of March:
"The value of postdocs to the science sector is, I believe, that they perform the translational and interdisciplinary work in the university system that underlies innovation."
is reproduced almost verbatim on page 68 of the draft document. Some small sign of progress?