White and Asian researchers to get less funding

The Government is consulting on a change in the rules for the PBRF or Performance Based Research Fund. This is meant to ensure excellent research in the tertiary sector. But now it is being changed to reward people for their ancestry. The changes are:

Partnership: the PBRF should reflect the bicultural nature of Aotearoa New Zealand and the special role and status of the Treaty of Waitangi | Te Tiriti o Waitangi; 

Equity: different approaches and resources are needed to ensure that the measurement of research excellence leads to equitable outcomes; 

Inclusiveness: the PBRF should encourage and recognise the full diversity of epistemologies, knowledges, and methodologies to reflect Aotearoa New Zealand’s people; 

› apply a funding weighting of 2.5 for Evidence Portfolios submitted by Māori staff; 

› apply a funding weighting of 2 for Evidence Portfolios submitted by Pacific staff

› increase the subject area weighting for Evidence Portfolios assessed by the Māori Knowledge and Development panel from 1 to 3; and 

› increase the subject area weighting for Evidence Portfolios assessed by the Pacific Research peer-review panel from 1 to 2.5

Note that you get extra weightings not just for choosing a Maori or Pasifika subject area (which reasonable people could debate as useful or not) but you get a weighting purely on the basis of your skin colour or ancestry.

If you are a professor of classics who does research about the Roman Republic, then if you are Maori or Pasifika you will get a weighting of at least twice as much as a European or Asian professor of classics who submits the exact same portfolio.

Professor Elizabeth Rata has submitted the following:

Point 1: The Equity Principle and Funding Weighting

The enactment of the equity principle by increasing the funding weighting for Maori and Pacific researchers will actually increase inequities between science[i] researchers on the one hand and Maori and Pacific researchers on the other hand.

This is the case because:

Two different categories are conflated – those of ‘scientific research expertise’ and ‘distributive politics’. Academic research refers to knowledge generated “by people with specialist knowledge about the theories, methods and information concerning their field of enquiry” (Consultation Document, p. 11). ‘Equity’ refers to the politics of resource distribution. But what is being redistributed by the proposed PBRF funding weighting? It is the measurement being redistributed not the scientific expertise. Redistributing the measurement criteria will not achieve equity. The only way to achieve equity is to increase Māori and Pacific access to the scientific research expertise that is being measured.

It is illogical to use the PBRF (a measurement tool to evaluate knowledge expertise) as a means to achieve a political objective. Redistributing the measurement of knowledge expertise is not the same as redistributing access to knowledge. It is an unconscionable sleight of hand to a) alter the funding weighting and b) claim that the altered measurement criteria increase research expertise.

Support programmes for Māori and Pacific academics can help build expertise but the PBRF is not a support programme. Using it as one destroys its integrity as a scientific research expertise measurement tool.

The issue is the research expertise itself, not its measurement. This takes me to the principle of ‘Inclusivity’. What research is considered to create the expertise that is worthy of funding as science?

Point 2: The Inclusiveness Principle and Funding Weighting

The claim that there are “epistemologies, knowledges, and methodologies” equivalent to science is false.

There are two belief systems:

  1. Beliefs that are subject to “enquiry of an experimental or critical nature driven by hypotheses or intellectual positions capable of rigorous assessment by experts in a given discipline etc” Consultation Document, p. 12.  The knowledge produced by this universal scientific method is science[1].
  • Beliefs that are the “epistemologies, knowledges, and methodologies” of “New Zealand’s people”  (Consultation document).  This is the cultural knowledge described by the NZ Royal Society in its definition of mātauranga Māori:  

“Mātauranga Māori is the intellectual capital generated by whānau, hapū and iwi over multiple generations. It is a shared community knowledge that is embedded in lived experience and carried in stories, song, place names, dance, ceremonies, genealogies, memories, visions, prophesies, teachings and original instructions, as learnt through observation and copying of other community members. It is a holistic system of orally passed knowledge, concepts, beliefs and practice”.  

Royal Society Code of Professional Standards and Ethics in Science, Technology, and the Humanities: Interpretation. Commencement Date – 1 January 2019. Page 4. Footnote 10.

The Consequences of the PBRF Review

  • The decline of science in New Zealand
  • Damage to New Zealand’s international research reputation
  • The diversion of Māori and Pacific researchers away from science to the cultural knowledge of mātauranga Māori.

[1] Science’ is used as defined by the International Science Council, chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman. “The word science is used to refer to the systematic organization of knowledge that can be rationally explained and

reliably applied. It is inclusive of the natural (including physical, mathematical and life) science and social (including behavioural and economic) science domains, which represent the ISC’s primary focus, as well as the humanities, medical, health, computer and engineering sciences.” (Science as a Public Good, ISC Position Paper, October 2021, page 1, footnote 1.)


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