Funding loss 'puts NZ at risk'

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014

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A top Lincoln-based research group says that missing out on $20 million in government funding will put New Zealand's agriculture, horticulture and forestry at risk from biosecurity threats.

The Bio-Protection Research Centre will no longer be funded as a centre of research excellence (CoRE) from the end of 2015, after missing out on the six-yearly funding by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). The commission manages the Government's approximately $3 billion annual funding for tertiary education.

The decision was perplexing and disappointing, centre director Travis Glare said.

TEC funding is worth $3.4m annually with that amount guaranteed until the end of next year. However, Glare had applied for about $6m yearly in the latest round of funding. He said the funding was mainly used for post-graduate and post-doctoral research with a focus on protecting pastures, crops, forest and native plants from pests, weeds and pathogens including the Psa disease in kiwifruit.

Glare said funding was vital to protect New Zealand's agriculture, horticulture and forestry industries as they were susceptible to biosecurity invasions.

The centre, which is a partnership between Lincoln University, Massey University, AgResearch Ltd, Scion and Plant & Food Research, had been receiving funding from TEC since 2003.

It would continue operating, but if no alternative funding was found then post-doctoral and graduate students would most likely not be trained.

"We would basically lose our capacity for training for the future of New Zealand." Glare said at this stage there was no threat to staff. "We have 18 months to try find other sources of funding."

Ultimately the selection panel chose other submitters ahead of them which was the nature of competitive funding, he said.

A TEC spokeswoman said there were 27 applications, with eight CoREs selected for site visits for up to $35m worth of funding.

"The shortlisting is in no way a comment on the previous performance of the existing CoREs."

The TEC board will base its final decisions on the recommendations from the Royal Society of New Zealand, which is running the selection process. The successful applicants will be announced next month.

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