The Government unveiled its new strategy for science yesterday but the glossy launch came without any increase in funding.
In fact Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce is proposing to lower the Government funding for each primary growth partnership that it enters into at the same time as it promotes new regional science centres to be established in provincial New Zealand..
Even so, Mr Joyce believes that private sector research can get to one per cent of gdp.
“This is of critical importance to New Zealand,” he said at the strategy launch at the Royal Society.
“It is of critical importance to seeing the science system grow with much of that growth by necessity needing to be driven by private investment.”
The Government has just started consulting regions on a little noticed move in the Budget to establish regional research institutes.
Eligible regions for hosting an institute will be only those outside the main population centres of
Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
The Government says the conditions to be met before an institute can be established will be.
New institutes must be established and maintained as private or private not-for-profit organisations with their own independent governance arrangements.
New institutes must perform relevant research in support of industry-led efforts to increase their R&D intensity.
New institutes should congregate and develop their own ‘in-house’ expertise, but are also expected to facilitate and integrate researchers from other NZ institutions, or from overseas, into their mix of activity.
New institutes are expected to bring new research activity into the regions whilst meeting
Industry demand in their host region and possibly across several regions due to the nature of their industry engagement.
Proposals for establishing (a) new institute(s) must make a clear business case that
demonstrates ongoing financial sustainability beyond initial government support.
The Government has set aside $25 million over the next three years to fund the institutes which Mr Joyce has said could be modelled along the lines of Nelson’s Cawthron Institute.
But another initiative which has been largely targeted at regions – Primary Growth Partnerships – is to be cut back.
Mr Joyce said these would have the Government funding component in them reduced from 50 to 40%.
In the current financial year $70 million is expected to be spent on the partnerships.
Overall as far as primary sector research goes, the Minister is not expecting much from the dairy industry while prices stay low but he said there had been a really strong performance in recent years from the meat and fruit sectors “and this is exactly the time to see that investment continue to grow.”
He defended the Government’s total investment in science and he said funding had been increasing.
“Around $160 million a year through the Callaghan Innovation Fund for example will flow through to increased results in the high tech, food and ICT sectors,” he said.
“The areas that are perhaps showing not such good increases at the moment are in the primary sector in which we already have much higher levels of co-funding.
“So it’s hard to agree we should do more co-funding than we are in sectors which are growing more rapidly for lower Government investment.”
The strategy rests on two pillars — excellence and impact. And by impact Mr Joyce means that all of our science should have “a strong line of sight to the eventual benefits for individuals, businesses or society.”
To that end the way contestable funding is won by research institutions is to be changed.
The Government has reviewed the contestable funding system through the Marsden Fund and some other funding allocations and concluded that there was a lack of clarity on the purpose and role of the fund in the wider science system.
Its structure hindered government from shifting funding to emerging research opportunities and needs, operational processes appeared complex, and some costs were disproportionate to the scale of funding available.
So now all contestable funding will be aggregated into one fund.
Mr Joyce says this will be a more agile fund that can respond to emerging opportunities.
But the Government is also imposing stricter accountability on recipients of funding with a requirement for annual performance reports.
The Government is reviewing core funding for the Crown research Institutes and is to turn its current International Relationships fund of $9.3 million a year into a fund to be called the Catalyst Fund which will consist of four funding streams that target investment in leadership, influence, seeding and strategic co-operation.
A lot of what Mr Joyce unveiled yesterday was cosmetic – but the reaction from scientists at the launch was positive and what was clear was that the Government now has a coherent approach to science funding.