Thursday, March 2, 2023

Dr David Lillis: Capture of Research Funding in New Zealand?

Executive Summary 

The embedding of the Treaty of Waitangi and an increased focus on Māori research and Māori researchers in our innovation system follow similar trends in domains such as education and public health. According increased status to Māori culture and Māori researchers and, indeed, also to Pacific research, in research funding decision-making may enhance the profile of Māori and Pacific in research and create needed role models for young Māori and Pacific people. However, negative consequences for other research will follow. 


Formulae used to allocate funding to research organisations involve numeric weightings that are about to increase for Māori researchers, Māori-oriented research and Māori postgraduate degree completions. The benefits are likely to include a concomitant increase in Māori, Pacific and Māori-related employment in tertiary organisations and consequent domestic gains relating to equity and sense of worth. However, the funding process must be supervised very carefully so as not to disadvantage significantly other excellent research of potential benefit to New Zealand, attenuate the worth of non-Māori researchers and, in addition, lead to diminished credibility of New Zealand’s aggregate research effort. We could also experience a decline in international university rankings and in ability to compete in international tertiary education. 


While well-intended, increased funding weightings that are based exclusively on ethnic affiliation is a dangerous concept unless managed very carefully. We will not achieve long-term success in tertiary education and research by appointing academic staff on the basis of ethnicity rather than of genuine research potential. Several academics known to me assert that merit should be the only criterion for funding and that preferring one ethnicity over others is the very definition of racism and can only lead to divisiveness and the erosion of quality. 


Unfortunately, academics who question the enhanced status of particular ethnic groups, or the intrusion of traditional knowledge into science and education, are at risk of allegations of racism and losing their jobs. Several have reported bullying of themselves and others. Many believe that they cannot speak out, just as many teachers feel that they cannot question the proposed Treaty-based, national curricula. Surely, highly-qualified professionals who advance such perspectives do so in good faith and with genuine concern for the wellbeing of research and for the good of New Zealand. They deserve to be heard, rather than to be threatened or punished. 


Research, Science and Innovation

Recently, concerns have been expressed about a racialized national curriculum that is proposed for our primary and secondary education (e.g. Rata et al., 2023). Since then, many scientists have articulated further concerns about racialization of research funding. Following many discussions and, after reviewing relevant material, I have formed the view that their concerns are legitimate. 


We know that research, science and innovation create new knowledge, new ideas and technologies and create capabilities, products and services for people, the environment and the economy. So - how is scientific and other research funded here in New Zealand? We have several funds that dispense the necessary financial resources to research groups and individual researchers. Researchers apply to those funds, providing detailed accounts of the research that they hope to undertake and presenting justification for their work. 


One of these funds is the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF), which aspires to enhance research quality by supporting excellent tertiary sector research. It assesses the research performance of tertiary education organisations (TEOs) and provides money to high performers. Different classes of TEO can apply - Te Pūkenga (New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology, the largest vocational education provider in New Zealand), Private Training Establishments (PTEs), universities and wānanga (publicly-owned tertiary institutions that provide education within a Māori cultural context). At present, Government invests $315 million per annum in the PBRF. It is the largest source of funding in research, science and innovation, providing approximately 22% of Government’s direct investment in this domain.  


The intent of the PBRF is to provide bulk funding (Government funding, provided as a lump sum) to support an organisation’s research capability, including postgraduate teaching, rather than to fund research projects directly. We can summarize the Tertiary Education Commission’s stated objectives of the PBRF (TEC, 2023a) as follows:


1.     Increase the quality of basic and applied research within New Zealand's degree-granting TEOs


2.     Support world-leading, research-led teaching and learning at degree and postgraduate levels and assist TEOs to maintain and lift their competitive rankings relative to their international peers


3.     Provide public information about research performance within and across TEOs and support a robust and inclusive system for developing and sustaining research excellence in New Zealand.


In doing so, the PBRF supports research activities that include the advancement of mātauranga Māori. Is mātauranga Māori science? Elements of most or all traditional knowledge, including mātauranga Māori, have a scientific basis. Is it possible for mātauranga Māori to constitute excellent science? Possibly - under appropriate definitions of science excellence or, more precisely, since no single definition can ever suffice - under an appropriate typology of excellence in science. 


In 2020 a review of the PBRF was made public (Ministry of Education, 2021). The review dealt with too many complex issues to address here but in general there is much to say about the fund that is positive. We note that the review panel sought public submissions and that TEOs (including all of the universities), research organisations and peak bodies indeed provided submissions. However, many researchers have grave concerns and it is those concerns that I wish to address here.  


Among researchers with whom I have discussed the PBRF, perceptions are mixed – some positive and many quite negative. One very highly-regarded physical scientist expressed the following view: 


Unfortunately, the PBRF did not bring a positive change to our universities, as predicted. The quality of research did not increase, as promised. It should be scrapped and instead the universities given a general rating according to where they are in terms of international reputation.


Another very highly-regarded researcher inquired about outputs that count as research contributions within the PBRF and was dismayed to receive the following response:


The impact of Māori research can be acknowledged in ways unique to te Ao Māori; for instance, the performance of a creative piece of work, such as haka or waiata-ā-ringa, in multiple venues or sites could be considered analogous to multiple journal citations. Similarly, the esteem of the site or event where the creative work is performed could be considered analogous to the varying esteem afforded to publication sites, such as journal rankings.


Principles that Govern the PBRF

The PBRF is governed by principles that include partnership and equity (TEC, 2023b). We are told that the PBRF should reflect the bicultural nature of New Zealand and the special role and status of the Treaty of Waitangi. In addition, we are told that different approaches and resources are needed to ensure that the measurement of research excellence leads to equitable outcomes and that the PBRF should encourage and recognise the full diversity of epistemologies, knowledges and methodologies that reflect the people of New Zealand.


All New Zealanders today, including Māori, have gained from rule of law, education, healthcare, a more peaceful society and other benefits that emerged during colonialism. However, there is no dispute over historic injustices and damage to Māori mana, sense of place in the world, culture, and self-confidence. The trajectories thus created have contributed to Māori emerging at the wrong end of various measures of social and economic wellbeing. In recent times these outcomes are being offset through various financial assistance; scholarships and other education-related incentives; preferential admission to Medical School; heavily Treaty-centric, Matauranga Māori-based early childhood, primary and secondary education curricula; an increasingly Treaty-centric tertiary sector; a Treaty-centric public service; naming of public institutions in Te Reo and, of course, a dedicated health authority. Nevertheless, past injustice should indeed be recognized and New Zealand is making great efforts to do so.


The historic shift from relative simplicity to complexity must be acknowledged and today many more additional spheres of activity require governance than in the past. Greater demands are placed on Government than at the time of signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. However, is not New Zealand a multicultural nation, rather than bicultural? Asians, Pacific people and Middle Eastern, Latin American and African people constitute much more in number (about 25% of the total population) than those who self-identify as Māori, at 16.5% (Ehinz, 2022). And - what does it take for funding and employment outcomes to be considered equitable?


Exactly which epistemologies, knowledges and methodologies are to be encouraged, apart from those accepted by the mainstream global scientific and research community? In principle, we should provide some resourcing of research into traditional knowledge or culture, or research conducted by minority researchers (possibly using traditional methods), as long as the work is of high quality and brings social benefit, and provided that the inevitable crowding-out of other excellent research of social, environmental and economic value to society does not become pervasive and systemic. 


Preface to the PBRF Review 

Linda Smith is Distinguished Professor at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi. In her Preface to the PBRF Review she tells us:


It was clear to us that our research funders, ethical frameworks and codes of conduct are increasingly demanding more openness to different research approaches, Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs) are committed to a more inclusive research workforce, and the research community understands that research excellence can take many forms.  


Is all of this true? Have our research funders, ethical frameworks and codes of conduct truly demanded more openness to different research approaches? The overwhelming majority of established research methodologies are to be found all across the world, precisely because they have been demonstrated to be valid, rather than confined to one specific locality (i.e. the traditional knowledge of one particular country or cultural group). If indeed our funders are making such demands, then why so, and do they make those demands voluntarily? If not, then who is forcing them into this position? 


What are these different research approaches that would enhance a modern department of physics, chemistry, microbiology or medicine, or indeed any other science? Of course, other kinds of research are valuable too, sometimes of necessity drawing on different methods and epistemologies (e.g. matauranga Māori-related research). For decades, the prevailing ethic surrounding funding decision-making in New Zealand concerned excellence and relevance. Research is either excellent (within its own domain) or it falls short and, in general, excellence or the absence of excellence, is determined through intensive peer-review. Relevance can be evaluated on the basis of potential to bring benefit to the people, economy and environment of the nation. Appendix 1 of this article discusses an example of excellent research conducted by an outstanding New Zealand researcher – the mathematician, Professor Vaughan Jones. 


It is crucial that we exercise due diligence in broadening our definitions of research excellence because there is great potential to include research that would not be considered excellent in other countries. In any case, how important is it for a theoretical physicist, organic chemist or molecular biologist to establish stronger connections to tikanga Māori? For those for whom such connections are obligatory - should they not establish stronger connections to other cultural and ethnic groups too? Surely, if inclusivity and diversity are sought, then connections to others should be the standard; not only the inclusion of Māori and Pacific. 


The descriptors ‘colonial’ or ‘Western’ may apply to science to the extent that western societies achieved prosperity partly through imperialism and exploitation. However, so did others, and the use of such descriptors illustrates the attitude of those who see imperialism and colonialism as exclusively European sins and are unaware of the plethora of past and present examples in diverse cultures (e.g. the Normans in Europe; Moguls in India; Han in China; and, indeed, Māori in New Zealand, in relation to the Chatham Islands). 


Our Multi-Cultural Society

How have present-day inequities emerged regarding employment in the sciences and is it the role of a taxpayer-provided research fund to address inequities at the expense of research quality and relevance? Perhaps so, to some extent, but present-day trends in global research have little to do with traditional knowledge, traditional methods or the self-identified ethnicities of researchers.   


We are told that:


The adoption and incorporation of te reo and tikanga Māori into how we talk and think about the fund are ways that we can give effect to the partnership between Crown and iwi. It also reflects the distinctive kaupapa that guides researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand and the unique place of Māori in our society and culture.  


Are not Asians, Pacific, Islamic and other peoples (even Pakeha!) equally critical to New Zealand society? Certainly, non-Māori/non-Pakeha outnumber Māori in the total population by approximately ten percentage points. Does the Crown not have a partnership with them? What is this distinctive kaupapa that guides researchers in New Zealand and, recognizing that the ancestors of Māori were here before others, what is the otherwise unique place of Māori in our society and culture that is absent in the case of everyone else? 


If our population is diverse, then why not include the traditional knowledge of other groups? Does matauranga Māori have a monopoly on the truth in a way that the traditional knowledge of Islamic societies, Australian aboriginals or indigenous Indian peoples of Canada does not? Matauranga Māori does indeed include some knowledge and know-how gained by trial and error, such as how to catch or gather foods; predicting the weather; judging the patterns of ocean currents, and understanding local geography, flora and fauna. However, like other traditional knowledge, it includes pseudoscience, superstition, myths and untested folklore. No traditional knowledge deserves to be classified as knowledge until its claims have been scientifically established through falsifiability, replicability and sufficiency.


Increased Funding Weightings to Māori and Pacific 

The PBRF User Manual explains the system of weighting of applications, involving Quality Evaluation, postgraduate Research Degree Completions and External Research Income (TEC, 2023b). Researchers provide Evidence Portfolios for evaluation and as input to funding decision-making. Future funding decisions will be based on a Quality Evaluation component, a Subject Area component and a Research Degree Completion component (number of research-based postgraduate degrees – including doctorates and master’s degrees, as well as some postgraduate diploma and honours programmes). 


Let us consider the Quality Evaluation part of funding decision-making. Quality Evaluation provides an assessment of the quality of research at TEOs. The current formula for the Quality Evaluation funding component involves a product (multiplication) of a numerical Quality Category weighting, the full-time-equivalent (FTE) status of staff members and a funding weighting for the relevant Subject Area (see pages 14 - 18 of the User Manual). However, Government has requested amendment of this funding calculation for 2025 onwards in order to take account of new and higher weightings for Māori and Pacific researchers and for Evidence Portfolios assessed by Pacific Research and Māori Knowledge and Development panels in the Quality Evaluation of 2025.


Of course, any formula that embodies products of weightings will result in potentially significant increases in funding, particularly if more than one weighting is increased (i.e. proposed increases in both the numerical Quality Category weighting and the weighting for the relevant Subject Area). If degree completion weightings increase too, then the advantage to Māori research and Māori researchers becomes rather large. 


Subject Area Weightings

The PBRF uses three classes of Subject Area weighting: 1, 2 and 2.5, in order to modify the funding to each TEO through Quality Evaluation and Research Degree Completions. Currently, Māori Knowledge and Development is grouped along with many other research areas and has a weighting of 1 (see Table 1 of the User Manual). Other areas such as the sciences (weighting of 2) and engineering (weighting of 2.5) have higher weightings at present because research in those disciplines is usually more expensive. However, in 2021 Government agreed to additional funding weightings for Māori and Pacific staff that will be applied to the Quality Evaluation 2025 results. These are a funding weighting of 2.5 for Evidence Portfolios submitted by Māori staff and a funding weighting of 2 for Evidence Portfolios submitted by Pacific staff. If a researcher qualifies as both Māori and Pacific, the higher weighting will apply.  


The panel recommended applying a higher weighting of 2.5 for Evidence Portfolios relating to the Subject Area of Māori Knowledge and Development in order to reflect the complexities and costs of the relevant research. These complexities might include the need to develop and sustain deep and intense personal connections and relationships with iwi and hapū. The increased weighting is also supposed to recognise the additional benefits that research in other Subject Areas derives from the relatively few staff undertaking research based on these relationships and methods. This change is supposed to provide a tangible expression of the partnership between Crown and iwi by recognising past underinvestment in relevant research and research methodologies. 


However, do not other classes of research also embody their own complexities and costs and were the relevant research and research methodologies truly under-resourced? By what measures were they so? Did they meet established criteria for research excellence? Are higher complexities and costs a believable justification for an increased weighting of 2.5? The more credible reason is that of encouraging and rewarding more Māori research.


In relation to this question, the panel has also recommended applying a higher weighting of 2.5 for Evidence Portfolios relating to the Subject Area of Pacific Research. The panel considered that this change also reflects both the specific complexities and costs associated with the relevant research. Similarly, this particular change recognises the demands for the New Zealand research, science and innovation system to become more responsive to Pacific communities, both in New Zealand and across the Pacific. Whether or not the increased weightings are either too little, just right or too much, is debateable, but at least it is pleasing to note that Pacific people are included in the discussion here, in addition to the very strong emphasis on Māori.


Māori and Pacific Student Completions and Early Career Researchers

In addition, Māori and Pacific student completions will be weighted more highly (called an “equity weighting”) in order to encourage TEOs to enrol and support Māori and Pacific students on the basis that they are under-represented at higher levels of study.


On page 14 of the Review we are told that the current state involves a workforce characterised by inequities and undervaluing of certain kinds of research and research organisation. We have incentives focused on research students and early career researchers and funding weightings for Māori Knowledge and Development and Pacific Research from 1 to 2.5. So, the proposed changes involve strengthening of incentives to promote workforce and epistemological diversity. They will involve a funding weighting of 2 for the Evidence Portfolios of Māori and Pacific researchers and a funding weighting of 4 for the Evidence Portfolios of new and emerging Māori and Pacific researchers. The Subject Areas of Māori Knowledge and Development and Pacific Research will be weighted 2.5.   


The anticipated outcomes of these changes include greater investment in Māori and Pacific researchers, greater investment in new and emerging [Māori and Pacific] researchers, and increased investment in wānanga and Māori and Pacific research methodologies and knowledge.


In the Review we read that there is already a weighting of 2 that applies to research degree completions associated with students who identify as Māori and/or Pacific people. A higher weighting of 4 is recommended for staff who identify as Māori and/or Pacific, meet the criteria for new and emerging researchers and whose Evidence Portfolios are assigned a particular quality category. We are told that this provision would strengthen incentives for TEOs to invest in the transition of the growing number of Research Degree Completions into research employment.     


Comments on the Proposed Changes to Weightings

The review report states that, taken together, the proposed changes align powerfully with efforts to promote greater diversity in the research, science and innovation workforce and research methods, will direct resources to areas where research excellence has been undervalued and contribute to regional development.     


In principle, we can agree with the sentiments here but, if it is considered necessary to promote diversity in the research community, is it acceptable to potentially devalue the excellence of researchers who are neither Māori nor Pacific? If we agree that some proportion of resources should move from other work to Māori and Pacific, then how much? What are these diverse methods and are they to be found in other countries or are they unique to New Zealand? 


We read:  Higher funding weightings should apply to the funded Evidence Portfolios of Māori and Pacific researchers, particularly new and emerging researchers and the Subject Area weightings of Māori Knowledge and Development and Pacific Research.  


While well-intended, increased funding weightings based on ethnic affiliation is a dangerous concept unless managed very carefully. Government’s drive to induce more Māori and Pacific into research is understood. It is also understood that some Māori and Pacific research will indeed be excellent, in accordance with particular definitions of excellence. However, there is no sufficient justification for preferring lightweight research over true excellence on a systematic basis. 


We read on page 12:  A Sector Reference Group should be established to advise on the implementation of the changes to the fund agreed by government and this group should include significant representation of Māori and Pacific researchers and a broad representation of researchers across career stages and organisational context.   


The Sector Reference Group is supported by the New Zealand taxpayer and must act in good faith, but certainly not so as to ensure successful funding outcomes for research of marginal quality and reach, or to induce system-wide outcomes relating to employment of modestly-qualified researchers over outstanding researchers.


Possible Long-Term Impacts of the Changes

The PBRF is finite and shifts in funding between different areas form a zero-sum game, so that funding available for non-Māori will decrease inevitably. The Executive Summary of the Review tells us:


Increasing the funding weighting for the Subject Areas of Māori Knowledge and Development and Pacific Research and for Māori and Pacific researchers. This change will create stronger incentives to address the critical undersupply of historically underrepresented groups and better resource research that has been hitherto undervalued, particularly among wānanga.


The scoring basis for shifts has been set through the new weightings and the relative weightings have little to do with science excellence but instead provide a mechanism for addressing partnership issues. Unfortunately, unless supervised carefully, increasing funding weighting for the Subject Areas of Māori Knowledge and Development and Pacific Research and for Māori and Pacific researchers will bring about negative consequences that could include a marked drop in the overall quality and relevance of New Zealand’s research effort and do harm to the careers of talented and productive researchers and research groups. 


A new and emerging researcher in the area of Māori Knowledge would be accorded a funding weighting considerably greater than someone without Māori or Pacific ancestry. Initially, the new protocols may or may not award academic positions directly on the basis of ethnicity, but most probably they will have that impact over the long term. The benefits are likely to include an increase in Māori, Pacific and Māori-related employment in TEOs and consequential domestic gains relating to equity and sense of worth. However, we may also experience decline in international university rankings and in ability to compete in international tertiary education. Is it acceptable to assess and value people's work differently, in accordance with their ancestry? Should not such an approach fail to satisfy equal opportunities legislation in New Zealand?


The proposed PBRF changes will give rise to funding on the basis of ethnicity, but the Treaty of Waitangi and associated notions of partnership and issues surrounding equity may be advanced as justification. But - the perceived under-employment of minorities in research could arise from many factors, including personal choice. As a former schoolteacher and tertiary lecturer, I got to know many Māori students who aspired to take degrees in economics, business, law and medicine, rather than science, usually or always as a matter of personal choice, as far as I was aware. 


The current proposals call for many more Māori undertaking research on topics deemed worthy by Māori, with results evaluated according to Māori values. What kinds of research study might we see? Archaeology, obviously, but there is a limited number of sites and, often, little remains to be studied. Anthropology? We should indeed collect such memories and relics that remain. Undoubtedly, there are other topics, but most everything else may fall within the bounds of the conventional science disciplines. There may be a limited number of possible research proposals of uniquely Māori character that would reach a minimum standard of international excellence or interest. But - what would be the future prospects of research students, skilled in historic Māori matters, in a modern economy?

While well-intended, increased funding weightings based on ethnic affiliation is a dangerous concept unless managed very carefully. Do we truly achieve long-term success by appointing academic staff on the basis of ethnicity rather than of genuine research potential?


Racism, Systemic Bias and Bullying

The Review tells us that:


Implicit and unconscious biases influence who is employed in the research workforce and what research is undertaken, funded and recognised. 


Various references are given to support this claim and, indeed, bias may well be present. As far as I am aware, neither racism nor systemic bias are mentioned in PBRF documentation. However, we hear repeated assertions that racism against minorities exists in the sciences here in New Zealand (e.g. McAllister, 2021). McAllister asserts that a stronger emphasis on mātauranga Māori and the colonial history of science in the national curriculum is necessary to ensure that future generations of scientists are equipped with the knowledge and understanding that scientific frameworks of thinking exist beyond the discipline of colonial science. She believes that our science system will never reach its full potential without Māori. We may agree but surely decisions made in relation to tertiary study and careers are largely a matter of personal choice and, in general, appointments to academic positions are made on merit.  

Of course, it is tempting to ascribe disparities in outcomes in domains such as health, education and employment in science to systemic bias and racism, but often the more serious causes lie outside the jurisdictions of health, education and science – principally socioeconomic factors. Here we may have a problem of attribution. Claims of bias and racism may be true but are presented without evidence and are difficult to evaluate objectively.  


Another claim was advanced to the effect that the famous Letter to the Listener was a true testament to how racism is harboured and fostered within New Zealand academia, as part of a global system that harbours and fosters racism (Ngata, 2021). In Appendix 2, I discuss one study of bias against women in research, the findings of which may inform discussions of racism in science and academia.  

In any case, not everyone agrees that such a thing as colonial science exists at all and it is not clear that credible scientific frameworks exist beyond that of world science. Possibly, assertions of discrimination against Māori and other minorities are true, but are not easy to prove and may, in fact, be quite wrong. Several senior scientists and research leaders have told me that they are unaware of racism in science and that New Zealand universities are keen to enrol minority students in their degree programmes and to appoint minority researchers to academic roles. 


Some very senior university staff have claimed to me that in fact Pakeha academics (especially male Pakeha) are even more at risk than minorities. I am informed that a number of them have been threatened with the loss of their jobs if they are perceived as racist (or simply accused of racism) or if they have expressed concerns about the intrusion of traditional knowledge into science or education. I have spoken directly to quite a few such people and it does appear that they have experienced a pernicious form of bullying by university administration.  


The Treaty of Waitangi as a Basis for the PBRF

Today, we see great focus on Treaty of Waitangi and Māori within education, health and our public service. New Zealand universities embed such a focus in their strategic plans and other high-level documents.


Some combination of elements from Māori, Government, academia, the public service and others now expect an array of Treaty-based issues to be addressed at every turn, adhering to the principles of partnership, co-governance, rectifying historic injustices, and addressing inequities. These expectations have become requirements, often undefined and unbounded, and it is left to implementers to interpret the Treaty of Waitangi and the associated notions of partnership and co-governance. In Appendix 3, I discuss current proposals to rename the PBRF. 


The Review notes that the existing principle of ‘Cultural inclusiveness’ combines a recognition of the partnership between the Crown and iwi based on the Treaty of Waitangi and the growing social and ethnic diversity of New Zealand society. The panel considered that these two concepts ought to be distinct through new principles – partnership and inclusiveness. ‘Partnership’ is supposed to acknowledge the unique partnership between Crown and iwi and the bicultural foundation of New Zealand society. On the other hand, ‘Inclusiveness’ is supposed to acknowledge the very great diversity of epistemologies, knowledges and methodologies and the need to recognise and reward them. 


However, why does the notion of partnership arise for one demographic group when it is not appropriate for others? Is partnership mentioned in the Treaty of Waitangi? Indeed, the notion of partnership, far from being inclusive, is dividing the country and threatens both unity and nationhood. The foundation of New Zealand may have been bicultural originally but New Zealand emerged decades ago as a very multicultural society. What epistemologies, knowledges and methodologies must be recognised and rewarded in New Zealand that would not be recognized or rewarded in other countries? If we mean traditional epistemologies, knowledges and methodologies, then we agree that a solid case can be made for them on social and political grounds, but within reason, and provided that their impact on established methods and excellent research is kept within sensible limits. 


The report states that the new incentives should increase the number of Māori and Pacific researchers in our TEOs. It states that strong financial incentives will be an important way in which we drive the much-needed investment required to address this critical gap in our research workforce. They will widen the scope of the Māori Knowledge and Development panel to better reflect the diversity of Māori research, place clearer emphasis on research contributions to the Māori research environment, address inequities in outcomes and create a separate performance-based fund for mātauranga Māori research. 


However, as before, are the existing gaps truly critical or are they instead a relatively minor issue that has emerged partly as a matter of personal choice and partly as a result of underachievement in secondary education (itself most probably a consequence of socioeconomic factors)? Of course, it is reasonable to widen the scope of the Māori Knowledge and Development panel, but such a panel should not be populated with particular individuals or provided with Terms of Reference of such a kind as to produce pre-determined funding outcomes that favour one self-identifying ethnic group systematically. 


A Statement on Science in New Zealand

There is only one science - humanity’s most successful method of establishing the nature of the universe. There can be no local or ethnic sciences, and saturating a nation’s science curriculum with traditional knowledge is only the beginning of wider problems. New Zealand’s scientists are recognised internationally as credible members of their international scientific communities and make proportionate contributions to the advancement of science. These contributions are limited by our small numbers and generally inadequate resources, compared with other nations. Diversion of resources to areas of little or no international significance, without compensatory additional funding, can only degrade New Zealand’s standing in scientific research. Government policy is influenced by a clamour of diverse voices and any initiative that reduces or confuses the science contribution can only be detrimental.


Why is modern science that is studied throughout the world, unattractive to Māori but appropriate for others? Do Māori not accept the basic principles of science? Would inventing Māori names for the laws of physics and the elements and all items of chemical and biological equipment make it more acceptable?  


The Future

Cabinet has asked the TEC, working with the Sector Reference Group for the Quality Evaluation 2025, to consider how the definitions of research and research excellence can be improved. Indeed, there is always room for improvement. Perhaps we should go back to a system that does not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. 



Ehinz (2022). Ethnic Profile: New Zealand has a diverse ethnic mix.,%25%20Pacific%20peoples%20(381%2C640%20people)


McAllister, T. (2021). The underserving and under-representation of Māori scientists in New Zealand’s science system.


Ministry of Education (2021). Toward the Tertiary Research Excellence Evaluation (TREE)


Ngata, T. (2021). Defence of Colonial Racism.


Rata, E., Shwerdtfeger, P., Richards, R. and Lillis D. Open Letter to Prime Minister Hipkins.  Discussed in:


Stewart-Williams, S. and Halsey, L. G. (2021). Men, women and STEM: Why the differences and what should be done? European Journal of Personality, 2021, Vol. 35(1) 3–39.


TEC (2023a). Performance-Based Research Fund


TEC (2023b). Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) User Manual


Appendix 1: The Work of Professor Vaughan Jones

Among many others, we had a New Zealander of whom we can be justly proud but who unfortunately passed away in 2020. I refer to Professor Vaughan Jones, who became a Fields Medallist because of excellent mathematical research in knot theory. Some person or group researching traditional methods of performing arithmetic or mathematical calculations makes a positive social and historic contribution, of course, and sometimes such work adds real value to the world's sum of knowledge. Research into traditional methods, for example, is very worth doing and deserves to be resourced, but within limits, and not at the expense of the truly excellent, pioneering research that emerges from top research groups in critical areas such as cancer treatments, environmental management, clean energy and food technology. 


Though not of direct economic benefit, Professor Jones’ ground-breaking work is lauded by mathematicians across the world, whereas research into the science and mathematics of traditional communities (e.g. traditional astronomy) is usually of local interest only and often of relatively minor international impact. The research of Professor Jones and others like him has brought great credit to New Zealand. Work such as his can stimulate future research that may be of social or economic benefit but also motivates students to involve themselves in similar research. Those students develop skills that they can take to the workplace and contribute to the wider society. 


Appendix 2: Systemic Bias against Women in Science?

The Review tells us:


  . . . Women, Māori and Pacific people are underrepresented in the workforce 


We must listen when minorities inform of racism and when women speak of misogyny and bias in science. Indeed, several women have spoken to me of such issues. However, Stewart-Williams and Halsey (2021) found that discussions of the relative dearth of women within STEM fields should consider human sex differences. They say that if men and women are psychologically indistinguishable, then disparities between the sexes within STEM will be perceived as discrimination. Similarly, if it is assumed that psychological sex differences are due to non-biological causes, then gender disparities will be perceived as arbitrary and sexist cultural conditioning. However, they also say that such perceptions are almost certainly false and established research finds that:

1. Men and women differ, on average, in their occupational preferences, aptitudes and levels of within-sex variability

2. These differences are not due to sociocultural factors only, but also embody a substantial heritable component

3. Such differences, in addition to the demands of childbirth and rearing children, are the main source of gender disparities that exist within STEM today.

They find that discrimination appears to play a smaller role and, in some cases, may favour women, rather than disadvantaging them. They assert that these conclusions have important implications for how academics and policy makers should address gender employment gaps within STEM. They suggest that we should strive for equality of opportunity, but then to respect men’s and women’s decisions in relation to their own lives and careers, even if doing so does not result in gender parity across all fields. Though we certainly cannot rule out systemic and unconscious bias, racism or misogyny, possibly the findings of Stewart-Williams and Halsey may be at least partly true for minorities in research. 


Appendix 3: Te Reo and Naming of the PBRF Fund

In the Review Report we are informed of a lack of connection to the new focus of the fund and the distinctive cultural heritage of New Zealand; that the current name of the fund suggests a focus on performance and funding, less emphasis on workforce and research diversity and no commitment to equity in the principles of the fund. The proposed changes involve adopting Te Reo Māori names for the fund, new principles, a new name that places greater emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness, a new objective that is focused on a flourishing and inclusive system, a new principle relating to equity, cultural inclusiveness and partnership between Crown and iwi.   


The anticipated outcomes of these changes are that researchers will have, and see a place for, themselves in the system, stronger connection to tikanga Māori, commitment to addressing persistent, embedded inequities and that fund design will reflect emerging trends in the research world. 


We should find a new language to talk about the fund, its principles and objectives and how research excellence is understood. Te reo Māori names will connect with the excellent work underway across the sector to anchor research in the distinctive cultural heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand.   


Te Reo names are indeed respectful to Māori and reflect a movement that is occurring across different domains within New Zealand, such as education and public health. However, did the Review Panel demand Te Reo or was it forced on them? 

Dr David Lillis trained in physics and mathematics at Victoria University and Curtin University in Perth, working as a teacher, researcher, statistician and lecturer for most of his career. He has published many articles and scientific papers, as well as a book on graphing and statistics.


Anonymous said...

Interesting read.

The problem is simple.

We either consider New Zealand a global partner in global science excellence as it is measured globally or we are outcasts in a 'science' dedicated to ethnicity within an isolationist thinking.

We cannot be both.

Anonymous said...

Well said. I fear that the reputation of NZ sciences and the Universities is going to go the way of NZ Education excellence - to the bottom of the OECD tables.

We are descending back into a similar age as that which held that Pliny the Elder’s insistence that consuming powdered sow’s dung relieved labour pains was mainstream medicine.

Anonymous said...

And if there is no 'partnership'. in the Treaty, where does it place all this race centric domination and promotion?

MPHW said...

Great analysis David. The changes to the PBRF are muddle-headed, racist and reflect fundamental ignorance about how science works. The excerpt below epitomises the hare-brained thinking aboutthe role of research in tertiary education:

"The impact of Māori research can be acknowledged in ways unique to te Ao Māori; for instance, the performance of a creative piece of work, such as haka or waiata-ā-ringa, in multiple venues or sites could be considered analogous to multiple journal citations. Similarly, the esteem of the site or event where the creative work is performed could be considered analogous to the varying esteem afforded to publication sites, such as journal rankings."

Our science and our education system must never be driven by racial identity but by the quality of the reseach and educational outcomes as measured internationally.

David,the issues you have raised are so important I suggest you use them as a basis for a letter to the PM and/or relevant Ministers that seeks their response.

BTW, the Treaty was never a partnership between Maori and the Crown. However the racialists realise that if they repeat a big lie often enough people will believe it.

Anonymous said...

NZ Universities have terminal cancer - just one more symptom. Send your kids there at your peril.

Brought to you by Dr Megan Woods - PhD (2002) Integrating the nation: Gendering Maori urbanisation and integration, 1942-1969.

Cara said...

Why would competent professionals, holders of much-needed skills, or entrepreneurs want to emigrate to NZ knowing that their non-Maori offspring will encounter blatant racist bias throughout their schooling, and beyond, should they wish to apply for prestigious tertiary courses, government jobs or research funding? The problem with advantaging one group is that it necessarily disadvantages all others!

David Lillis said...

This morning a very highly regarded physicist sent me the following message:

"I am concerned that we are losing our straight (all equal under the law) democracy, to the detriment of all. Race should not enter into any public policy."

I agree. We are indeed at a dangerous point in New Zealand's history where we stand to lose our democracy as we have nurtured it over many decades.


MPHW said...

A further point I would make is that the changes to the PBRF will encourage a lot of tertiary sector gaming to maximise earnings from the Fund. This could lead to big reductions in some of our most important scientific fiels.

Another issue is how do we define "Maori". Specifically, what percentage of Maori blood do you need to be classified as Maori?

Anonymous said...

A very comprehensive analysis that shines much needed light on the ill-advised policy of allocating research funding and selected enrollments based on ethnicity rather than excellence, relevance and merit. Rather than being inclusive as claimed by the review, the policy is exclusive and divisive. If Māori and Pacific researchers and students are not participating in research and learning to the same extent as other ethnicities then the causes of this should be identified and addressed. Gaming the system to advantage just 2 ethnicities is not a viable solution and won’t reflect well on TEOs or the researchers and students involved.

Dave Lenny said...

David Lillis rather generously ascribes commendable motives to the principles driving the PBRF. I wouldn’t. Rather, the PBRF exemplifies Orwell’s disdainful aphorism, “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

NZ competes with the rest of the world on the rest of the world’s terms, whether in science, sport or primary production, not on our own terms. Our self-absorbed navel-gazing and ethnic exaltation will condemn our grandchildren to life in an impoverished South Pacific backwater as other nations, open to the world, race past us.

Empathic said...

In the social 'sciences' anyway, the standard of research attracting funding and being approved by ethics committees long ago dropped to dismal depths. Advocacy research, usually from a feminist or race perspective, almost never involved any measurement of anything, made no effort to avoid response bias or indeed actively trained research assistants to maximize response bias, utilized selectivity over data on the basis of their support for the researchers' predetermined outcome, subjected data to interpretation or reframing to make it fit the researchers' preference, and concluded with claims about causal relationships without statistical analysis and without any control for other possible causes. A great deal of our current ideological mess has arisen from such research. For example, research alleging Maori are punished by Courts more severely than are non-Maori for the same offences did not bother to control for offending history. If they had done so they may have discovered that the more serious offence history for Maori on average was responsible for the measured group differences. Scientific rigour has been set aside in favour of politically correct advocacy through corruption of science. Now we are seeing the same in the 'hard' sciences, and at a time when sound scientific facts and solutions are needed more than ever. The consequences, including faulty beliefs about causes and solutions, threaten our civilization.

Owen Young said...

"Unfortunately, academics who question the enhanced status of particular ethnic groups, or the intrusion of traditional knowledge into science and education, are at risk of allegations of racism and losing their jobs. Several have reported bullying of themselves and others."

As a senior and recently retired academic, this was exactly my experience. Fortunately, I was retiring anyway, so no skin off my nose. But it was fascinating to watch the cancel culture machine in top gear. My colleagues wisely kept their heads down - out of fear.

Owen Young ex AUT University