Job losses at IRL ‘tragedy’ for science
By John Gibb
The threatened loss of up to 41 jobs at Crown Research Institute IRL is a “tragedy” for New Zealand science, Dunedin senior scientist Associate Prof Glenn Buchan says.
Prof Buchan, a University of Otago microbiologist, said it was ironic the proposed redundancies were announced by Industrial Research Ltd (IRL) on Tuesday, the same day AgResearch chief executive Dr Andy West was urging the recruitment of thousands more young scientists.
New Zealand needed to train about 17,000 more scientists and other support staff to replace researchers eventually facing retirement and to boost the nation’s future wealth, Dr West said in an interview with the Otago Daily Times.
Prof Buchan agreed with Dr West, but called for more government funding to halt sending damaging mixed messages about science careers.
The IRL redundancies effectively waved another “red flag” to prospective young scientists, warning about the “highly insecure” nature of many New Zealand science careers, Prof Buchan said in an interview.
IRL had won a reputation for high quality research and success in commercialising innovation and it was sad to see any staff being lost.
“The Government is not going to achieve its goals unless it is realistic in its funding of science,” he warned.
It took up to 12 years to train a top scientist, including a first university degree, later PhD, and eventual postdoctoral study.
After at least a decade on modest incomes and having incurred large student debts, prospective scientists then faced being on insecure short term contracts for the rest of their lives.
“That’s not a big drawcard for young people,” he said.
Prof Buchan is a former president of the Otago Institute, which is the Otago branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said the Government must reform its flawed contestable model for science funding in the light of the IRL redundancy moves.
IRL worked in areas critical to New Zealand’s future, including energy, engineering and biotechnology.
“It is very short-sighted to lose talented scientists and other skilled workers to balance the books in the short term,” he said.
PSA national science organiser Malcolm Blair, of Wellington, said Science Minister Steve Maharey had recently made a welcome pledge to provide a more stable funding system.
Such reforms, which could provide more job security, were needed quickly, Mr Blair said.
A spokesman at Science Minister Steve Maharey’s office said the Government was committed to providing more stability in science funding through its “Picking up the Pace” initiatives.
In a statement, IRL officials said they planned to switch much of IRL’s existing core operations from Christchurch and Auckland, consolidating them at its largest centre, in Gracefield, Wellington, and cutting some duplicated costs after three years of financial losses. — ODT Nov 12, 2005