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Science funding still tough process

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 21/06/2017 Rebecca Howard

Funding remains the elephant in the room for the scientific community and while the end point of research is positive, there is a need to keep a close eye on the cost of getting there, says New Zealand Association of Scientists president Craig Stevens.

Tight funding across the board means many scientists are competing for funds in a time-consuming process and "we are throwing scientists' time away", he said at the association's annual conference in Wellington.

Mr Stevens pointed to the Catalyst Fund where the government is committing $4.46 million for three new New Zealand-Australia research projects.

The funding - announced late last week - is positive, said Mr Stevens, but only three of more than 100 proposals were funded.

"That means 97 or more failed," he said.

A back of the envelope calculation, based on the premise that each proposal takes around 10 days to put together, means scientists spent five working years drumming up ideas for one funding round.

Mr Stevens also pointed to New Zealand's Endeavour Fund, which received an additional $81m over four years in this year's budget, noting that the fund used to be very narrow with few applicants but today the opposite is true.

"We have opened it up and we can get fantastic ideas in but the money hasn't necessarily changed dramatically. It has increased somewhat, but there is an incredible loss to the community of effort being put into proposals."

Mr Stevens said while many scientists see funding as the elephant in the room it is essential that the government and country as a whole talk about it.

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith told the conference that the government is "very focused on ensuring the science system in New Zealand is sustainable" and is very aware of the "power and significant contribution" that science makes.

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