by David Clendon
A recent article by Jacqueline Rowarth, Professor of Agribusiness at Waikato University, gives a very good summary of this government’s muddled thinking (my words, not hers!) about the value of science and scientists.
On one hand we have Minister Joyce trumpeting the importance of science, and attempting to wield some very blunt instruments to ‘encourage’ the teaching and learning of science. On the other hand, many of the reforms, restructures and pressures we have seen applied to the science communities – the CRIs, universities, research centres and the like – send clear signals to prospective graduates that embarking on a science career in New Zealand is likely to lead one down a very bumpy and uncertain road.
Professor Rowarth points to the compelling need for scientific research in the face of changing conditions brought about by climate change, affecting human health, primary production , ecosystem management, biosecurity, and much else. She notes that “Top science will be critical. What is required simply does not fit with what the CRIs have been doing over the past few years, as budget cuts have contributed to centralisation at the expense of regional research”.
The latest example of that centralisation programme (in the name, one assumes, of ‘efficiency’) is the AgResearch move to two ‘hubs’ at Lincoln and Massey. This move puts scientists at some remove from the physical environments that ought to be the subject of their work, and also puts barriers in the way of close and regular interaction between scientists and others with regional knowledge and expertise. ‘Efficiency’ is of little value if it reduces the ability of the science community to be effective.
The centralisation has led directly to resignations from the CRIs, and so a further loss of experience and capacity which has unfortunately been so prevalent over recent years. Short term cost cutting is a poor tradeoff for damaging our long term prospects for sustainability.