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Science’s slice of Budget 2022 – Expert Reaction

Budget 2022 has a relatively small amount of new cash allocated to science, research and innovation.

This budget comes ahead of what could become a major overhaul of the research, science, and innovation sector in the coming years, with MBIE now going through submissions from its initial consultation period.

The SMC asked experts to comment on science funding in the budget. 

Dr Lucy Stewart, co-president, New Zealand Association of Scientists, comments:

“Overall this is an uneventful if not mediocre budget for the research community. I’m pleased to see commitments in the climate and RNA tech spaces – as we have seen with the development of mRNA vaccines against COVID, this is a promising area of technology which could bring rapid benefits if properly supported. It is also good to see that the Agriculture Emissions Reduction initiative explicitly includes mātauranga Māori in its mandate.*

“However, funding is otherwise flat or with increases that will barely cover inflation – particularly our premier blue sky research fund, the Marsden Fund. What this means in practical terms is that less research will be done and fewer researchers will be able to stay in Aotearoa. In particular there is nothing here that will particularly change circumstances for early career researchers. Researchers and research are not exempt from the effects of inflation and until (and unless) the Te Ara Paerangi process brings meaningful structural reform, this is just more of the same for researchers.”

Conflict of interest statement: “I work for Toha NZ, which is involved in environmental finance and agriculture.”

Professor Nicola Gaston, Department of Physics, University of Auckland, comments:

“I don’t see any big wins for science, research and innovation in this budget. The investment in RNA technologies is welcome, it is a sensible place for strategic investment of the sort supported by MBIE’s strategic investment processes, but it will be relevant to a very small proportion of the scientific ecosystem in New Zealand.

“My concerns remain the same as I expressed last year: in the face of inflation, the financial support for research in New Zealand, across our universities and CRIs, is steadily eroding and has been doing so for some time. To bring this down to the human scale, perhaps a simple example is best: the Marsden Fund recently increased its level of funding for PhD research stipends by 25%, to a value of 35k per annum tax free, a welcome shift after many years of inflation having resulted in PhD researchers being paid less than the minimum wage. However such increases, as necessary as they are, do mean that fewer researchers will be trained and less research will be done.

“This needs urgent attention – not new funding schemes, but simply across the board increases in bread and butter funding mechanisms that provide the oil needed for our research sector to keep running.”

Conflict of interest statement: I am the Co-Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence.

* Correction 24/05: Dr Stewart’s comment previously said there was a meaningful boost to the Health Research Fund. This extra money was actually Covid-19-related underspend being carried over to the next year.