Budget 2012 and science: expert reaction

The Government this afternoon unveiled Budget 2012 including $326 million in new funding for science, innovation and research over the next four years.

The SMC contacted scientists and key figures from the science sector to gauge their reaction. Please feel free to use the comments below in your reports.

Contact the SMC for more information.

Professor Shaun Hendy, President of the New Zealand Association of Scientists, Deputy-Director of the MacDiarmid Institute comments:

“The new initiatives are welcome. The Advanced Technology Institute, which will build stronger links between science and industry, will give New Zealand back the kind of R&D capabilities that led to companies like Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. The kind of R&D that the ATI will undertake has not been possible in the contestable funding environment run by FRST and now MSI. The new Science Challenges represent an innovative way of funding science that we hope will reduce the level of micromanagement by MSI in scientific research in New Zealand .

“However, the total increase in science spending in Vote S&I is only about 3% after inflation. This still falls far short of level of investment in science and technology made by other small countries like Singapore or Denmark. Our on-going unwillingness to invest in science and technology means that Kiwis work harder and earn less than almost any other people in the developed world.

“It is also disappointing that the government has failed to address the crisis for post-doctoral researchers in New Zealand. The number of post-doctoral positions available in New Zealand has declined by 25% since this government took office. Young scientists will be booking their tickets overseas after this budget.”

Neville Jordan, immediate past president of the Royal Society of New Zealand and science and technology investor comments:

“An excellent budget for science, engineering & technology. Not just in terms of the new funding but the ‘challenges’ will have a marked effect on bringing together NZ science, engineering & technology to focus on solving issues of great importance to NZ.

This has hitherto been difficult to achieve.

“We should not forget that the social sciences too have a significant role to play in the cross-discipline approach to the challenges.

“The changes to capital market policy will hopefully have a marked benefit in the RS&T area – the deepening of capital markets should free up some investment cash that can be partnered with offshore capital to the benefit of NZ scientists and engineers.

“The ATI will be a great delivery vehicle and coordination point for the ‘challenges’ and multidisciplinary approach. If the ATI uses IRL as a foundation it will get off to a very good start.

“Overall, a score of 8/10 from me & a well-finessed budget considering severe international constraints’.”

Professor John Raine, Pro Vice-Chancellor – Innovation and Enterprise, Head of School of Engineering, AUT University comments:

“I am pleased to see that the government has responded to recommendations in last year’s Power Innovation report through initiatives announced in the budget, in particular the $326 million increase over four years in funding for Science, Innovation and Research, and the $158.9 million over four years to invest in engineering, science, and research-led learning in tertiary education institutions.

“I would hope and expect that these Government funding increases will drive a higher level of funding into R&D by the private sector which will in turn drive innovation and the high tech economy. It is very encouraging to see implementation funding for the new Advanced Technology Institute.

“I would also like to see ongoing publicity around the National Sciences Challenges, and their funding in this budget, attracting the attention of young people to retain maths and the sciences at high school to maintain their option of pursuing science or engineering tertiary studies, then launching into careers that will address these challenges.

Anthony Scott, Science New Zealand comments:

“These commitments reflect a sea-change in how New Zealanders regard science investment. A strong science base is now seen as vital to improving our future. It is pleasing to see the government treat science investment as a must-have element in our national infrastructure.”

“Increased subsidies supporting science and engineering tertiary study will help address the skills deficit in these critical areas. This is vital if we are to develop more and higher value exports, and protect and enhance our environment. To lift exports to 40 per cent of national GDP by 2025, we need to treble the private sector’s R&D workforce.

“The transformation of IRL into an Advanced Technology Institute has now got a timetable for action. The science research and business community also needs certainty around the ATI’s form and function. The concept of a nimble, better resourced entity helping build New Zealand’s high value manufacturing and services is welcome.

“National Science Challenges also gets a timetable. CRIs are keen to work with government, businesses, communities and others to help define the big challenges of fundamental importance to New Zealand, and which are currently beyond the ability of any one group to resolve. Let’s get cracking on the innovative solutions they require, to make a difference for our economy, environment and society.”

Dr William Rolleston, National Vice President, Federated Farmers comments:

“It is pleasing to see the Government recognise the important investment in science during a period of tight fiscal constraint.

“It is particularly pleasing to see funds directed to our core capabilities and that is the production and support of sciences with an increase in the PBRF funding and a $59 million boost for science and engineering courses.

“At present I understand universities lose money on these courses. Human capability, particular in agricultural sciences has been run down over the years and is in need of rebuilding if we are to remain agricultural world leaders, extract more value from our agriculture sector and produce within environmental constraints.”

Tenby Powell, Chairman, Waikato Link comments:

“Competitive funding for multi-disciplinary research teams is very important. But so too is reducing the value destroying fragmentation that plagues NZ; research and science is most certainly not immune.

“We are small but competitive nation who needs to work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to commercialize the ideas, schemes and dreams of our brightest and best. The bottom line – literally – is that we need to significantly increase our execution of commercially viable ideas; allowing the status quo to continue in not an option.

“Universities and research institutions are critical to enhancing innovation through Leadership Thinking and the practical application of commercial ideas. But we must do this collaboratively rather than through single silo entities that encourage competition aimed at attracting more Government funding than their counter-part elsewhere. KiwiNet is this entity.

“KiwiNet, New Zealand’s national early stage commercialization vehicle, comprising six universities and three CRI’s, encompasses the large proportion of NZ’s science capability and clearly demonstrates the good-will between these institutions to work collaboratively. The sheer breadth and depth of this new grouping not only constitutes a genuine national network, it encompasses a strong institutional and regional presence. From this platform, we have the ability to reach deeply into regional innovation systems and into NZ’s major industry sectors.

“My hope is that we do not create yet another level of competition between entities based on a competitive funding model.”

Hans van der Voorn, Executive Chairman, Izon comments:

“The extra money for science is nice, but the way it is being applied could be a lot more effective. One of the issues that needs to be addressed is the level of bureaucracy in science in New Zealand. The emphasis on cross disciplinary research will only add to that, with no obvious benefit.

“The Advanced Technology Institute as proposed is a bad idea. The Government would be better off bolting such an initiative onto the University of Auckland so it could take advantage of bright young students coming through the university with fresh ideas. A university based research institute would have a more dynamic culture, cost less, and is a model that at least has evidence of success.”