More uncertainty for CRIs and New Zealand science

The Government’s announcement of plans for merging Crown Research Institutes add yet another round of uncertainty for the New Zealand science sector, said Dr James Renwick, President of the New Zealand Association of Scientists.

The Minister, Wayne Mapp, has this week hinted at a future with three super-institutes instead of the current eight."The set-up of the new Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI) is on-going, changes to Government core funding for research will not be announced until the May Budget and will not be rolled out until July, and now we have the prospect of a complete shakeup of the organisations where many New Zealand scientists work. This smacks of a rush of blood to the head, after a decade and more of inaction" said Dr Renwick. In light of a recent paper released by the Ministry of Economic Development that called for greater integration between the CRIs and the knowledge intensive manufacturing and services sector, the Association of Scientists is very surprised that none of the suggested three new super-institutes align with this sector. "The date of the next General Election seems to be driving the thinking, rather than any strategic view of what the sector needs" he went on to say. "This will come to pass just as the Minister retires from politics, leaving others to clean up any mess".

The Association notes that twenty years ago, there were two principal Government science agencies (DSIR and MAF Research Division), today there are eight, by the end of the year there may be three. In another few years we could well be back to two again, or one. The Association of Scientists applauds efforts to streamline operations and to cut overhead costs. However, the numbers of back office staff have now been pared to the bone by the CRIs, which have had to live with flat Government funding since they were created in the early 1990s. "The number of support staff is about half what it was in the early days of the CRIs, according to Statistics New Zealand". "Rather than further cuts the New Zealand science sector is in need of stability and the sense that there is some solid strategic view of the future" said Dr Renwick. "A number of New Zealand scientists may well be looking overseas, in the face of these latest announcements."

New Zealand Association of Scientists is a nationwide association of practicing research scientists spanning the universities, technical institutes, Crown Research Institutes of Science NZ, government departments, industry, museums, other science institutions, and independent researchers.

Contact

Prof Shaun Hendy, Vice President of NZAS, Victoria University of Wellington, Ph 04 463 5809; Mobile 021 144 2349; Home 04 971 8753; email: shaun.hendy@vuw.ac.nz