Friday, July 4, 2008

Science Funding in New Zealand

Can I applaud the recent signs that lifting science funding in New Zealand may reach some level of political priority. In particular Anthony Scott's opinion piece in the Herald. Hat-tip The Hive.

I strongly disagree with Scott on one point. The Marsden Fund is essentially the only source of pure science research funding in this country and its value in real terms seems to have been decreasing markedly in recent years, driving several excellent scientists in my field to desparate measures, including expatriation. I know of at least three excellent young researchers in my relatively small area of physics that have left permanent jobs in New Zealand universities for a variety of reasons including better funding opportunities overseas. Maintaining research expertise in areas like physics is essential and I am not talking about people that lack international reputations. These people are supported by blue skies research funding like the Marsden Fund and they are able to attract it in other countries with relative ease. Not all Government science funding should have a definite technological of commerical application in view. Indeed it seems to me that the private sector should be funding the lion's share of such work. Please someone, increase the value of the Marsden Fund now.

For some time one of the glaring issues in science funding has been appallingly low private sector funding for research. This will always be an issue in New Zealand's small economy and it is great to see the government addressing it with the Fast Forward Fund. However there are companies that should be more involved in funding scientific research given their size and the huge role of technical advances in their business, I'm thinking of you, Fonterra.

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