Limited Scope, Limited Vision, Limited Benefit: The Issue of CoRE Funding Decisions and the Marginalisation of Māori Research

This Blog from Associate Professor Leonie Pihama is a response to the announcement of  funding for six Centres of Research Excellence.

Today TEC announced the centres in the new round of Centre of Research Excellence that will be funded from the round initiated in 2013.

The six CoRE announced are:
The Maurice Wilkins Centre, Te Punaha Matatini – The Centre for Complex Systems, and Networks Medical Technologies CoRE, all hosted by the University of Auckland;
Brain Research New Zealand – Rangahau Roro Aotearoa, co-hosted by University of Otago and University of Auckland.
The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, hosted by Victoria University of Wellington,
The Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, hosted by University of Otago.

An interesting and sadly predictable line up. All the CoRE are Science, Biomedical or Clinical based centres. All but one of the CoRE are hosted by either the University of Auckland or the University of Otago. Both these universities also hold dominant positions in many of the upcoming National Science Challenges. A similar picture is being painted in the National Science Challenges with the University of Auckland and the University of Otago have assumed dominant positions in key health related challenges.

Even more significant was the axing of the funding to Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga, the only multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary CoRE that provided consistent high quality research in regards to areas of concern to whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori concerns. One has to ask exactly where those concerns may be situated in these current CoRE. Well given the limited focus of each of the CoRE there is little likelihood of much benefit to Māori or to Māori research needs. I am not saying there will be no benefit, but I am saying that any benefit that may come to Māori, from the reductionist approach that clearly has determined what constitutes Research Excellence in this country, will be limited to biomedical or clinical fields. Inside those fields there are significant issues. For example it is clear that in the clinical developments we are more likely to be the ‘tissue samples’ and the ‘objects’ of the research than we will be the beneficiaries. What is also clear is that Māori will not be in control, will not define and will not have any ability to protect ourselves as this current obsession with a reductionist approach to issues in the health sector.

We have to ask why exactly do we need 6 CoRE all focused in these limited areas and hosted primarily by 2 Universities? Why do we need so many CoRE in such limited areas of research? Who determines what research is valuable? Who determined that Māori research has no value or contribution to make in the CoRE arena? Why are the fields funded determined to be more important than the lived social issues that currently face this country?

The absolute denial of Māori research interests, of Māori research needs and aspirations. The total invisibility of Kaupapa Māori, of social sciences, of research areas that provide for engaging with real lived social issues is appalling. Critical issues that face Māori and many other New Zealanders are clearly of no importance in the decision making in regards to these CoRE, Much the same can be said of the National Science Challenges. The obsession that all these initiatives be led by science and scientists (excluding Māori or critical social sciences of course!) mean that this government is committing over $1billion to a privilege select group of researchers. As a part of the decision today there has been comment by the two most awarded host Institutions:

“Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon said hosting four CoREs was an “outstanding result” for the university.
“The CoREs are testament to the breadth and depth of research capability at the University of Auckland, and our involvement means we will be contributing to all six of the National Centres of Research Excellence.”
Professor Harlene Hayne, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Otago, saying the new CoREs were a “clear indication” of the university’s research standing.”

What these comments lead us to believe is that the meritocratic myth is alive and well. The meritocratic myth tells us:
Ability + Effort = Merit

Clearly the two universities believe that being awarded the CoRE’s is a merit result from their ability and effort. Where there are clearly highly skilled and excellent researchers involved in these CoRE there are also a range of broader factors that contribute to this decision including such factors as:
1. the focus for selection was clearly limited to the areas of research specialty they are involved in which is highlighted by the limited areas of focus for the 6 CoRE
2. Institutional racism means that there were no Māori on the panels and therefore there was no actual peer decision making in regards to Māori CoRE proposals
3. The marginalisation of Māori knowledge means that the policy of Vision Matauranga Māori is not scored and there were no panel members capable of assessing Vision Matauranga Māori
4. There is no investment in areas of Kaupapa Māori
5. There is no investment in areas of social science or broader societal issues

The list could go on. The point being that this decision is not solely about having proven research excellence or ‘research standing’, as there are key points that indicate that this process and decision making were predetermined by a whole range of beliefs and assumptions around what knowledge is considered important and what knowledge and research investigation would be privileged and prioritised.

This process and these decisions are appalling and reek of racist and neoliberal determinations of what constitutes research, what knowledge is privileged and what researchers interests are served by such decision-making. We should not accept that there are only fundamentally two areas that deserve research support which are basically (1) the biomedical/clinical fields and (2) the development of new technologies. Māori should not accept this. Wider New Zealand society should not accept this. This decision and the current approach to the National Science Challenges must be directly challenged. There are many critical issues facing this country and to be enabling of a narrow research agenda and supporting only a very select privileged group of researchers is the worst reflection of the impact of what is a neoliberal conservative approach to research in Aotearoa.

About Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.
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