NZ government funds new Science Centre

The University of Canterbury (UC), my undergraduate institution, is struggling financially following the 2010/11 Christchurch earthquakes that left the university with damaged infrastructure and reduced student numbers.

The government recently made some announcements that they will give much-needed financial support to UC to build a $212m “Canterbury Regional Science and Innovation Centre” and to upgrade its engineering facilities. The Science/Engineering bias is in accordance with government agenda and any support for other areas will have to come from funding within the university.

I was asked by the UC media consultant to answer some questions relating to this announcement. I tried to be optimistic about the support for science, whilst emphasising that it’s important that other academic areas are supported in the university–lest UC becomes a technical institute.The resulting article is here, but I’ll paste my full answers below:

How exciting this is for the future of UC Science–and why? How this will really raise the value, integrity and status of UC Science?

This is tremendously exciting for the future of UC Science. If post-quake UC is to be a competitive science research and teaching institution that attracts students and leading researchers, then it needs upgraded infrastructure and a distinctive brand.

There is a unique opportunity for us to learn from our earthquake experiences and to plan strategically for the future as we rebuild; the proposed Canterbury Regional Science and Innovation Centre (CRSIC), which is made possible due to this government support, is representative of the type of ambitious long-term thinking that UC and Canterbury needs.

However, it is important to remember that people are a university’s most valuable asset. New infrastructure alone does not create a thriving university, although it can certainly help to attract world-class academics and foster research. In addition, a healthy and diverse intellectual climate requires that we give adequate support to non-STEM subjects.

How exciting this is for prospective UC students–and why?

Future students can look forward to having modern, open science facilities. Well-designed spaces can make a huge difference to one’s university learning and social experiences—something I have recently experienced first-hand at Oxford in the vibrant atmosphere of the new Mathematics Institute. Such spaces also encourage collaboration and the transfer of ideas through casual interactions amongst academics and students, both within and across disciplines—such interdisciplinary collaboration will be needed to solve complex problems such as climate change. The new science facilities should help to improve students’ learning experiences and to equip them to tackle such important future problems, as well as to thrive in modern collaborative workplaces.

How this will help attract Year 12 and 13 high school students to UC?

Modern facilities will naturally attract students, but also the improved outreach ability that UC Science will have will strengthen connections with local schools. Hopefully this will expose some young people to the excitement of science when they might not have had the opportunity otherwise, and perhaps it will even encourage them to pursue science at university.

How this proposal will help graduating Science students get jobs?

[I don’t really have anything meaningful to say here.]

The new facilities will be designed to encourage collaboration with industry. This will be an important component of making graduates more employable and fostering innovation in the region.

Any over overall comments would be great.

Overall, the type of support that the government is giving UC Science is vital if we are to be globally relevant in science education and research in the future. It is important that we not only invest in long-term structural foundations, but that we leverage this financial support to attract and retain leading researchers so that we can move forward also on a strong intellectual foundation.

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