4 Dec 2012

Government defends science funding amid criticism

12:03 am on 4 December 2012

The Government is defending its funding of scientific research after some scientists said they are being forced to leave the country because of a lack of financial support.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says there has been a huge increase in funding for research science, and New Zealand is never going to keep all scientists in that field.

Health Research Council chief executive Robin Olds and Marsden Fund chairperson Juliet Gerrard have criticised the levels of funding their organisations receive.

Dr Olds says the chances of getting repeat funding are low, with success rates of about 7% making it difficult for scientists to build up any continuity with their research.

Professor Gerrard believes New Zealand will suffer economically and scientists will leave if the funding shortfall is not addressed.

Marsden Fund recipient John Pickering of University of Otago in Christchurch said the number of applicants receiving funding has dwindled from one in three to one in 12.

"The funding is a crisis. Scientists are giving up, they're looking elsewhere for work. They recognise that careers built on grant funding are no longer possible."

Reproductive biologist Mark Green said he's moving to the University of Melbourne to continue his work after writing 42 grant applications during seven years of short-term funding contracts in New Zealand.

The Government says it has invested an extra $9 million in the Marsden Fund each year since 2009.

Mr Joyce told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that the Government has increased the amount it invests in research and development overall from $1 billion a year in 2008-2009 to $1.25 billion this year.

He said no other sector apart from education and health has received such significant increases.

"Yes we want to do more, absolutely, but we're close to the OECD average for government sector investment."