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BUDGET 2016: Science and research

Posted in Science Alert: Experts Respond

The Government has released this year’s Budget, with a number of funding increases in the science and innovation sector.

Budget 2016 Logo. This page will be updated with new announcements and expert reaction.

The national budget announced today reveals a large increase in science and innovation funding as part of  an ‘Innovative New Zealand’ package.

“Innovative New Zealand is a series of 25 initiatives that will see $761.4 million invested over the next four years in science, skills, tertiary education and regional development initiatives. These will help diversify the economy, and support more jobs and higher wages for New Zealanders in the decade ahead,” Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says.

The package includes:

The SMC collected the following commentary from key players in the science and innovation sector.

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Prof Charles Eason, Chief Executive, Cawthron Institute, comments:

“We’re pleased to see that funding for science has increased overall. We are particularly pleased to see more investment in contestable funding through the Endeavour Fund, which encourages new research ideas and collaborations, which is so important to independent research organisations such as ours.”

“For a comparatively small, independent science organisation, we are well aware that we can achieve a lot more by working together with other research and industry partners, whether in New Zealand or around the world.”

“We see great opportunities for linking increased investment in health research funding, through the Health Research Council and the Catalyst Fund to bolster existing international connections with multi-national corporations working in the fields of biomedical and biotechnology research.”

Dr Craig Stevens, President of New Zealand Association of Scientists, comments:

“[Increased Marsden funding] is a positive signal for New Zealand’s fundamental research community, but we see a need to get closer to 15-20% success rates to really provide an engine for the nation”. This increase, combined with the boost to health research already signalled, will efficiently increase research productivity in these areas.

“We hope that the Innovative NZ initiative sticks with the National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI) itself and supports impact in the environment and society sectors, and not just research with direct immediate economic return. Science is often about the long-game.”

“we are relieved the Government has seen that the MBIE [contestable funding] process needs to be improved, as we have real concerns about this funding model in terms of efficiency and process.”

“We hope these changes put scientists in the centre of decision- making. For example, The Catalyst Fund seeking to strengthen international collaborations is proving to be a complex, highly prescribed process. On the whole I think New Zealand scientists are really good at building international links and you have to wonder if the laudable NSSI goals in this area might be achieved simply by better supporting scientists and let them naturally build these collaborations.”

“Of concern is the budget signal of uncertainty for CRI science and scientists, as what was known as Core Funding evolves into the Strategic Science Investment Fund. It is positive that the government sees that key elements within the New Zealand science system need to be handled in particular ways. We’ll need to wait and see how the Strategic Science Investment Fund is rolled out before we fully understand the impact.”

Chris Whelan, Executive Director of Universities New Zealand, comments:

“This follows more than a decade where funding has declined in real terms for universities and where universities have struggled to maintain quality in teaching and research, and their ability to do more in the service of New Zealanders.”

“We are very pleased that Minister Joyce has listened to universities’ concerns and responded by injecting additional funds where they’re needed most.”

“We are pleased to see research funding receiving a boost in Budget 2016. This initiative, which includes the already announced increase to health research funding, will see more high quality research proposals getting the green light. At present only about 10% of research proposals get funded and a lot of good research has been missing out.”

“New Zealand universities are among the best in the world. They are all ranked in the top 3% of universities internationally and have exceptionally strong graduate employment outcomes. They do this, despite funding that is only 70% per student of that for universities in Australia or the United Kingdom.”

“We are therefore reassured that the Minister has recognised that investment in universities is an investment in New Zealand’s innovation and economic growth. Together these initiatives provide a long needed boost to the New Zealand university system.”

“However, we would encourage the Minister to consider increasing funding in other areas in future budgets. The increase in funding to the sciences is welcome, but funding to disciplines like law, the humanities, teaching and commerce have not increased since 2012 and universities are struggling to maintain quality in those areas.”

“Universities are also struggling to advance other Government priorities under current funding levels. There is a lot more universities could be doing to work with schools and iwi to lift numbers of young Māori making it to university. Likewise, funding levels are limiting the extent to which universities can work with industry to get qualification relevant work experience for their students and support the direct transfer of University knowledge to business.”

Prof Ian Reid, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences University of Auckland, comments (on the HRC funding boost):

“This is a very significant increase for health research funding and signals that the Government is fully committed to the outcomes of the recent HRC review.

“It is the largest single increase in health research funding in living memory-and it will increase funds available to support health research by 50 percent within four years.

“The extra funding takes a substantial step towards bringing New Zealand health research funding into line with other nations, though sustained finding increases over the next decade will be necessary to make that a complete reality. It is a step change for the health research community and will be widely welcomed.”

Prof Shaun Hendy, Director of Te Punaha Matatini and Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland, comments:

“This budget follows up on the direction signalled in last year’s National Statement of Science Intent. The focus of Science and Innovation spending over the last few years has been on growing business R&D, so it is pleasing to see a rebalancing towards science-led research. We’ve seen a great deal of change in the Science and Innovation sector in the last few years so it is also a relief to see that well-established programmes like the Marsden fund are being grown without being tinkered with. We know that this fund is effective but it is heavily oversubscribed; by increasing its size significantly over the next few years we can only hope that this lifts success rates up above 10% and eases the pressures on researchers.

“An increase in the relabelled ‘Endeavour Fund’ is also important, as it will compensate for the tortuously slow roll-out of the National Science Challenges. Likewise an increase in core funding for Crown Research Institutes (now coming under the Strategic Science Investment Fund) could dampen the impact from losses the CRIs might be facing now that MBIE’s contestable fund has become much less targeted.

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