The New Zealand Institute of Physics (NZIP) has expressed strong concern over the proposed staffing cuts by Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington (VUW).
NZIP President Prof Joachim Brand was dismayed by the proposals, which threaten to reduce VUW’s School of Chemical and Physical Sciences (SCPS) to a bare-bones operation.
“Serious cuts would be devastating for physics at the University and within the Wellington region. The SPCS is much greater than the sum of its parts and has taken a long time to create and could not be easily rebuilt. Removing this capability would rip out a critical part of the intellectual ecosystem in our capital city.”
Prof Brand said that the cuts were particularly on the nose for SCPS, a demonstrably high-performing research unit.
“The School should be treated as a taonga. It hosts the renowned MacDiarmid Institute, a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) and the only CoRE hosted by VUW. The School’s research is highly regarded internationally and makes a clear contribution to the transformation of New Zealand’s economy towards high-value, sustainable businesses through its graduates and emerging award-winning spin-out companies such as Liquium and Advemto.“
Prof Brand said that physics was critically important for New Zealand’s future.
“We use physics to create technologies that enhance sustainability and drive down carbon emissions. We need physicists to model environmental changes, to understand natural hazards, and to power our emergence as a space-going nation. We need top level university-based research and skilled graduates to create novel materials and photonic and quantum technologies. Key capabilities and opportunities will be lost if we make these cuts.”
NZIP Vice President Prof Richard Easther pointed out that it is also important to look at strategic failings in the wider context.
“The Government’s review of the Research sector (Te Ara Paerangi) is promising increased investment, a longer-term strategy, and more career certainty. The recent Budget included investment in a ‘Science City’ in Wellington. This goal is being undermined by what is happening at VUW, and physics is not the only discipline to be affected. The government needs to take a much more joined-up approach to science and research.”
Prof Easther says that there is a clear case for Government intervention.
“New Zealand has seen bail-outs of market-driven businesses, and a University is a public-good operation. These cuts would come on the back of closures of physics programmes at Waikato and Massey university in recent years and well-publicised threats to research and teaching staff at Otago and AUT. The situation speaks to the inability of University managers to effectively run their organisations. You can’t cut your way to greatness and University leaders should put more effort into collaboration and less into pointless competition. We should be building national strategies for key disciplines, not piecemeal, uncoordinated cuts.
NZIP President, Prof Joachim Brand, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0211413808
NZIP Vice President, Prof Richard Easther, email@example.com, 0212457453
NZIP Council member, Assoc Prof Geoff Willmott, firstname.lastname@example.org 021567034