BUDGET 2016: Science and research

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.

“I am concerned though at the relatively weak skills and tertiary education package. This leaves tertiary institutions will little option to balance budgets but through the aggressive pursuit of international students. International students contribute a lot to New Zealand, but I am not sure that forcing tertiary education to become an export industry is necessarily in the best interests of New Zealand students.

“I am also disappointed that yet again there has been no attention paid to early career researchers, a segment of our skills pipeline where New Zealand appears to have a real weakness.

“Finally I will also be interested to see how the regional research institutes progress. The extra funding will not go far, but as these are new initiatives it is perhaps wise to proceed cautiously.”

Dr Warren Parker, chair of Science New Zealand and CEO of Scion, comments:

“The increased level of public funding is substantial, and Government has committed to strengthening the connection between the excellent science done in New Zealand and getting it into practical application.  This is a two-way connection, and is vital to ensuring we are doing the science that meets current needs and that also challenges and opens up new opportunities for both the public and private sectors.

“Public funding for research, science and innovation is increased across a range of areas – from health to commercialisation to environment, and research in other areas critical to New Zealand present and future wealth and well-being.  The importance of international linkages in science is recognised.

“Science-based innovation is at the heart of opportunity for economic and social prosperity, and critical to protecting and enhancing our environmental wealth.  It enables higher value, higher paid jobs and creates the wealth we need as a nation, to re-invest into our society for the future.

“The CRIs are deeply engaged with these sectors, and across the value chains.  We know that these investments will help create a more innovative, agile country.  We are in a global race, and New Zealand’s companies need to be able to compete globally through innovative products and processes.

“The CRIs will be working with our colleagues in the private and public sectors and in universities and other research centres, to maximise the value New Zealand gets from the RS&T investment.

“Strategically-aligned research is our particular strength.  We are particularly pleased to see the government getting very serious about the science that supports opportunities in areas such as adding value through manufacturing, climate change, environmental research and application, the innovative primary sectors, and regional economic development.

“Regional development is often highly dependent upon the high value manufacturing and services which arise from the traditional local sectors. CRIs are dispersed across the regions, so we make a substantial contribution as knowledge and transfer centres and we look forward to identifying how additional value cane be released through working with regional research institutes.”

Dr Andrew Cleland, Chief Executive, Royal Society of New Zealand, comments:

“We are extremely pleased to see the government increasing investment in scientific research and innovation and moving further towards the long term goal of 0.8% of GDP.”

“The extra $410.5 million in science and innovation will provide New Zealanders with new knowledge and evidence that we can use to build our economy, support our environment and meet our social goals. The significant investment of $97 million over the next four years in health research announced last week was also a welcome part of this investment.

“The very welcome $66 million over 4 years increased investment in the Marsden Fund allows us to support more investigator-led research, which contributes through new discoveries and novel enquiry to New Zealand’s economic, environmental and social goals. We are delighted to see this commitment from the Government.

“The $15 million over 4 years increased investment in the Catalyst international Fund will support more collaboration projects between New Zealand researchers and international researchers. This is another welcome commitment from the Government.

“New Zealand needs to retain more of our excellent researchers and providing more opportunities for funding and international collaboration will contribute significantly to allowing us to do that.

“The lift in tuition subsidies for science and applied sciences recognises the importance of supporting excellent teaching in these disciplines.

“Support for science infrastructure, particularly in Crown Research Institutes and independent research organisations is welcome. The Society’s study on taxonomic collections released in 2015 illustrated the need for this form of support.”

Prof Juliet Gerrard, Chair of the Marsden Fund Council, comments:

“The Marsden Fund Council is delighted at the government’s increased commitment to excellent, investigator-led research by New Zealand’s best and brightest researchers.

“This increase reflects the impact and quality of the research carried out by the Marsden community, particularly the long term difference it makes to New Zealand in all spheres of endeavour. Much of this research was showcased in our ‘Celebration of Twenty Years of the Marsden Fund’ in 2014. We look forward to building on this legacy with this new investment which presents an exciting opportunity to expand the reach of Fund to make a bigger impact at home and maintain our international standing.

“The Marsden Fund is one of the most competitive research funds in the world. It demands high risk – high gain projects and encourages our researchers to think boldly and ask challenging, brave questions.

“Some of these projects will make a transformational difference to how we think about the world and New Zealand’s place within it, the health and well-being of our people, and our economic growth. Beyond this, these endeavours foster a community of researchers who make a huge difference to this country. These people are from all academic disciplines and they recognise and understand the latest developments overseas and help us to be early adopters of new ideas and technologies. Without these people, we would struggle to take advantage of all the research that takes place globally or play our part in this international community.

“This boost in resource will allow us to expand our national community of excellent researchers, and increase the breadth and depth of the projects undertaken.”