AgResearch has confirmed a restructuring that will result in the loss of nearly 80 staff.
The Bay of Plenty Times reported
the cut will amount to 78 staff, five fewer than first flagged a month ago, as the Government puts pressure on it to deliver more bang for its taxpayer-funded buck.
The Waikato-based crown research institute will lose 31 scientists and 46 science technician roles across different research areas, while hiring 18 new scientists and nine new technicians, taking the net loss of staff to 51, out of its 769 full-time and 95 casuals.
Chief executive Tom Richardson said the CRI had to balance shifts in its sector’s research needs, and therefore revenue, to respond to emerging science opportunities to maximise the impact for New Zealand’s pastoral sector.
“The challenge for us all is what is the balance between the science platforms and long-term investment in areas, versus work that is seen to be more relevant in the short-term,” Richardson said.
“The Government, like every Government I am aware of on the planet right now, is saying we want to understand better how the investment we’re making is making a difference for the country.
“So this Government has been really clear that their priorities around research are to increase the amount of private sector activity and investment and to make sure the work we are doing is relevant.”
Richardson said the restructuring was about balancing the research.
Some issues, like greenhouse gases, would see a greater focus on product development than blue-sky research. Other areas like food and nutrition, would see more in-depth, early-stage research.
“In our portfolio about a quarter of what we do is blue sky, about two-quarters of what we do is in the near applied space and a quarter of what we do is in the near development phase, so we’ve got a product in mind we’re developing it and it’s almost always with a commercial co-investment, and that’s our challenge is constantly looking at that balance in quite specific areas,” Richardson said.
The balance after the staff cuts would remain about the same.
According to this New Zealand Herald report :
Hardest hit would be staff numbers at the Palmerston North-based Grasslands Research Centre, where 38 positions will go, half of them scientists.
The Ruakura campus in Hamilton would shed 15 positions – 11 technicians and four scientists – while positions at the Lincoln campus, near Christchurch, would be reduced by 19, 10 of them scientists.
At Invermay, six positions would go, while four new ones would be created there, along with six at Ruakura, eight at Grasslands and nine at Lincoln.
Soil scientist Doug Edmeades has commented at Stuff.
Job security is among the several points he raises.
Scientists have been complaining for a long time about the stability of the current science system.
In particular, there is no ongoing certainty of job security if you choose a career in science.
Decisions about reducing or cutting funding were being made in the sterile Wellington environment without consideration of their impacts on the CRI scientists at the coal-face.
Thus, over night whole research groups could be wiped out or severely compromised.
I experienced this once in my capacity of national science leader, AgResearch, Soils and Fertiliser. Wellington expressed great surprise at the carnage and I was reassured that the losses were “unintended”.
This was not just a recruitment issue but it also impacted on staff morale.
The problem is this: Scientists once trained cannot readily change disciplines.
The reaction of Waikato University professor of agribusiness Jacqueline Rowarth is reported here.
Professor Rowarth said she was particularly worried to hear the cuts had come in the greenhouse gas and field work areas, pointing out how a new OECD report had just given New Zealand a poor rating for greenhouse gas emissions.