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Concerns raised about Marsden fund bias

Monday, 8 August 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kim Mundell
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HiNZ and 10 other leading representative bodies from the tech sector have joined forces to raise serious concerns about apparent bias within New Zealand's major Marsden research fund that has led to a significant under-investment in tech-related research over time.

The Marsden Fund is the major fund for "blue sky" University-oriented research funding. In 2015 there were 92 grants totaling $53.6M, but only 3 of these grants ($1.2M) were Computer Science-related and none were related to other tech-related areas such as Information Systems.

The joint submission, coordinated by IITP and backed by 11 of the top tech-related bodies in the country including HiNZ, NZTech, NZRise, InternetNZ and others, provided evidence showing that:

Just 17% of funding approvals for the combined maths and tech-related areas goes to tech-related research. This means around 4 maths-related research applications are approved per tech-related research application in NZ. This compared with 50%+ in other countries such as Australia.

On average the Marsden Fund funds around 1.5 research projects a year in tech fields, compared with an average of 46.5 a year by Australia's equivalent Discovery Fund.

The tech-related research community (based on PBRF assessments) makes up around 60% of the size of the combined tech and maths research community. While the number of top (A-ranked) researchers is smaller - around 35% of the combined area - this is still double the actual proportion of funding that goes to tech research vs maths.

The apparent bias is probably due to the structure of the fund, which combines maths and stats with tech-related areas such as Computer Science, Information Systems and Software Engineering in one panel. The panel decides which research applications progress and is generally made up of 2/3 maths and statistics researchers and only 1/3 or fewer computer science researchers.

We don't see the bias in outcomes as necessarily deliberate, however it's simply not possible for a panel made up of primarily mathematicians to adequately assess the quality of Computer Science, Information Systems or Software Engineering research applications. Just like computer science researchers couldn't assess the quality of maths applications.

The result is most not progressing and the tech-related research community missing out on 10s of millions in research dollars over the last decade.

The joint industry submission calls for the Maths and Information Sciences (MIS) panel to be split into two panels, one focusing specifically on tech-related research and the other continuing to focus on maths.

You can read the full submission here.

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