Science and education leaders from the Pacific region say climate change and mental health are the most pressing needs that a proposed new Science Academy might prioritize.
About 60 people met in Samoa last week to discuss the need for a Pacific Science Academy, ultimately agreeing to join forces to create a “voice for science.”
The Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiame Naomi Mataʻafa says: “The establishment of a Pacific Academy of Sciences and Humanities will be a global testament and a commitment by the Pacific region to promote sustainable development through scholarly activities.”
“[It will] provide interdisciplinary approaches to complex problems, offering scientific advice to governments as well as informing public policy for the benefit of our communities.”
The Samoa meeting ran over two days hearing from the African Academy of Sciences, Australian Academy of Science, the Royal Society Te Aparangi (New Zealand) and U.S. National Academies.
Sir Colin Tukuitonga, a Pacific Island scholar leading the initiative on behalf of the International Science Council, said he was confident that convening the expertise of scholars from across the Pacific would gain sustained institutional support.
“There is a time and a place for everything, and I think the time for an Academy in the region is now,” Tukuitonga said. “It will unite Pacific scholars, foster collaboration within the community and outside, and promote research on and from the region.”
He told Cosmos by email that in a region woefully underfunded for science, the Academy might create some momentum.
“By bringing together the combined force of Pacific scholars under the umbrella of one Academy, we aim to strengthen the voice of science and scientists and their capacity to lead research in the region; foster greater collaboration and promote research on and from the region.
“This will enable us to actively pursue more funding for research from international grants, collaborators and donors.”
The group which met in Samoa agreed to the International Science Council (ISC) supporting the development of an Establishment Committee to be led by Tukuitonga, the Associate Dean at University of Auckland, and Professor Teatulohi Matainaho, Vice Chancellor, Pacific Adventist University in Papua New Guinea.
“We are now working with the Pacific scholars to determine the members of the Committee, Terms of Reference and planned timelines,” Tukuitonga said. “The host nation for the Academy will be determined as part of the establishment process.”
The ISC has agreed to reach out to its network to secure the first year of funding to support the establishment of a Pacific Academy.
The ISC has initiated a project to gather and share data and evidence on effective policies and practices to advance gender equality in science organisations. Tukuitonga says a Pacific Academy would become part of the network, “monitoring progress and working together to improve gender equality.”
“The top priorities for the Academy will be determined as part of the establishment process but I can say that some of the key themes coming from the meeting in Samoa were, responding to the effects of the climate crisis as well as the mental and physical health and wellbeing of the Pacific peoples.”
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