Monday, April 22, 2024

Time to revisit NZ’s science system

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The way in which environmental research is funded is not suitable and needs to be changed, a top scientist says.
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A revision of the current environmental research funding model is imperative to the future success of New Zealand’s dairy industry, says distinguished professor Sir Peter Gluckman.

Gluckman, who is director the of Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland, says the long-term nature of the environmental research so critical to all of NZ’s primary industries is not suited to the current competitive funding models, which tend to focus on relatively short-term excellent and high-impact research.

“The system has evolved to focus on an economic perspective, but environmental research needs to have different dimensions of understanding,” Gluckman says.

“At the moment, we do not favour ‘non-sexy’ research, but it is essential research the country needs.

“Long-term research will fill environmental data gaps in areas such as soil, biodiversity and water, so we are able to make future environmental decisions on a data-informed basis.”

Gluckman, who was the former chief science advisor to the Prime Minister and president-elect of the International Science Council, says a report released by The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton – A review of the funding and prioritisation of environmental research in New Zealand – warrants serious consideration by government and policymakers.

“The comprehensive nature of the Upton report offers an opportunity for ongoing in-depth analysis and discussion about how to optimally use funds for environmental research and therefore, the public good,” he says.

“Simon has made a cogent case. It is an important and timely report which identifies many arguments for a fundamental rethink of our science system, both within the University and Crown Research Institute system and in its relationship to public good and economic outcomes.”

One PCE report recommendation was to implement and fund an environment research strategy through an expert-led Environmental Research Council. 

The complex and often long-term nature of environmental research has strong parallels with medical research which, for many years, has been well supported by the Health Research Council.

Gluckman says it has been almost 30 years since any fundamental changes have occurred in the CRO system, and it’s time to revisit the science system as a whole. 

The recent Koi Tū report – The Future is Now: Exploring the Post-Pandemic Direction for Aotearoa New Zealand – also calls for a collective of stakeholders, such as the Government, scientists and end users, to work together to develop a fit-for-purpose science system.  

He says high-quality, long-term research that supports the environment is key to NZ’s future.

“It is through meticulous and continuous work that real and perennially applicable discoveries are made,” he says.

“For environmental research, this work can overturn long-held assumptions and very often spawn new ideas and directions.”

Gluckman says there are big environmental decisions ahead of NZ, and it will only gain strength from having a data-rich approach.

“We can’t duck the fact that we live in a changed world,” he says.

 “NZ is not using science as well as it might, and it can’t continue with a non-strategic approach.”

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