Powering Innovation report – experts respond

The Government today released the findings of an independent report into high value manufacturing in New Zealand, outlining major changes for Crown Research Institute Industrial Research and infrastructure to better support research and development and innovation.

The Powering Innovation report was prepared by John Raine, Pro Vice Chancellor of innovation and leadership for Auckland University of Technology, Professor Mina Teicher who was previously director general at the Ministry of Science and Technology with the Israel government, and Business New Zealand chief executuve Phil O’Reilly.

The report’s recommendations include:

– Restructuring IRL as a “platform for industry” known as Advanced Technology New Zealand, with premises developed in Christchurch and Auckland in addition to IRL’s existing Lower Hutt campus.

– Focus ATNZ on engineering and applied science, expanding industrial development projects and downsizing basic research projects which may be transferred to universities or other CRIs.

– Introduce more flexible arrangements for employment, intellectual property rights and benefits to encourage collaboration between research organisations, tertiary organisations and industry.

– Replicate NZTE’s “Better by Design” programme, but with an R&D focus.

– Link all universities and CRIs through the planned National Network of Commercialisation Centres.

– Increase the number of international R&D research collaborations.

– Set up a Science and Innovation Council to establish a national innovation strategy.

The full list of 20 recommendations and immediate priorities are available here.

The Science Media Centre rounded up comment from leaders in the New Zealand science system. Feel free to use the quotes below in your stories. Further comments will be added to the SMC website.

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan, founder of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology and the private company Magritek comments:

“The report is interesting and well-researched. It points out the current disconnect between government’s stated wish to build capability in the high value manufacturing system and actions taken which hinder that, such as capping student enrollments in science and engineering and the cancellation of FRST postdoctoral fellowships.

“The report makes many excellent recommendations, such as the implementation of a whole of government strategy, identifying and addressing critical skill shortages and reducing barriers to entrepreneurship in the universities and CRIs. One failure is the lack of a recommendation for establishment of competitive funding agencies.

“Overall the report provides an excellent basis for enhancing our innovation sector. Implementing these recommendations will however require much greater commitment to the goals outlined here than has presently been shown by government Ministers outside Vote RS and T.”

Neville Jordan, immediate past president of the Royal Society and Chairman of Endeavour Capital comments:

“The report is a great step forward and it will be welcomed by all in the science and technology sector. Particularly the emphasis on the linkages in to New Zealand’s industry base – I think that will be very welcome.

“The recommendation to expand IRL in to ATNZ is absolutely a step in the right direction. This has been shaping up over quite a number of years. In the work that I have been involved in – funding companies based on science and technology – I can see that in the future there is going to be a rich resource in New Zealand of companies to invest in and I applaud the report’s recommendation.

“As past President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, I can also say this is a big boost for science in New Zealand. I thoroughly applaud the steps taken.

“I support the recommendations for a more flexible approach to IP rights. Everyone needs to share in success. That is exactly what everyone should be doing. It don’t think current IP environment has been a limitation but the policy has been somewhat variable. Now we will get a very beneficial unified approach.

“Likewise, I believe that the recommended creation of a nationwide commercialisation network will benefit the HVM sector. Currently each institution has their own approach, and success has been a bit variable. Now, bringing that together in a network is absolutely the right thing to do. Just as we were a stadium of four million people for the Rugby World Cup, we really are a city of four million people and we need a unified approach to this, not a fragmented one.

“Regarding development of an innovation cluster in Christchurch: the city has very good network of advanced technology companies, and supporting those companies is a first class idea. They have taken a big hit there with the earthquakes and I would be right behind giving them some additional support.”

Professor Shaun Hendy, School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“The creation of an Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) as recommended by the Powering Innovation report is an exciting development for New Zealand. As Sir Paul Callaghan has been pointing out over the last few years, there are great opportunities for New Zealand in high-value manufacturing. Companies in this sector, such as Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, export high-value niche products that need few resources other than clever people. Over the last few years the sector has grown rapidly and is on track to rival the dairy industry in export receipts in the coming decades. The plan announced today will see that growth boosted by enhancing the capability of these firms to perform R&D and to innovate.

“Although we have had IRL, a medium-sized CRI charged with supporting manufacturing, for almost 20 years, the diversity of the high-value manufacturing sector has made it difficult for IRL to support innovation in more than a few select areas. The new ATI will be much better equipped to address the range of R&D needed by high-value manufacturing firms in depth. The creation of the ATI is a bold initiative that has been long overdue.

“The Powering Innovation report also talks about the New Zealand skills shortage, and estimates that the demand for engineering graduates from this sector is roughly double that of what the University system currently provides. Unfortunately, this skills shortage is not addressed in this plan, and in fact, the current government has a poor record here, having cut both the Bright Futures PhD Scholarships and the NZ Science and Technology Post-doctoral Fellowships scheme in their first three years. This is something that will have to be addressed as the high-value manufacturing sector grows.

“The report also notes that we need ways to encourage mobility of skilled people between the universities, the Crown Research Institutes and business. The highly competitive manner in which science has been funded in New Zealand over the past 20 years has actively discouraged

this, with scientists and researchers frequently losing funding if they favoured working with industry over traditional scientific outputs like journal articles. It is important that funding agencies

keep this in mind and ensure that there are opportunities for scientists and researchers to restart their scientific careers having spent time in industry.”