Steven Joyce, the tertiary education minister, proposes to increase the proportion of PBRF (contestable public research funding) allocated based on external research income, from 15 to 20 percent of the total PBRF fund. He also wants to reward research organisations that attract external research income. He says ‘this places a higher value on research that meets user needs’.
The tertiary education minister’s decision to give greater financial rewards to university research that is already getting external private funding is a grave mistake says TEU vice-president Sandra Grey.
“Universities have a role to research all issues, both those that external agencies are willing to pay for and those that they are not. There is some research that business may never want to take place but is still crucial to the wellbeing of our communities. There is also blue skies research that may have no immediate economic benefit but is crucial to our understanding of the world.”
Sandra Grey says an example of this type of research is asbestos health research that manufacturers tried to ignore for many years. A more recent New Zealand example is research into the water quality of our rivers.
“The problem is that the users of public research are not just those people who pay for it, but everybody. Just because an external agency does not want to pay for research does not mean it is less worthwhile than other research. In fact, it may be more important. And the only way it will be funded is publicly through the PBRF system.”