The Government this morning released the National Statement of Science Investment 2015 – 2025, which lays out the priorities for investing government money in science and innovation over the next decade.
I’ll leave analysis of the report to experts who the Science Media Centre has contacted for reaction which will be released later today. But regardless of whether you think science investment is going in the right direction, the document itself is a very good starting point for understanding our science and innovation system.
There are numerous comparisons made in the report between New Zealand and five other small advanced nations – Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Israel and Singapore. These are useful comparisons, more so when it comes to science and innovation than comparing ourselves to all OECD countries.
Having spent some time in Israel recently, where most of the start-ups I visited where co-founded by scientists and where university professors often spend part of their week working in the business sector, I can relate to the graph below.
The other small advanced economies we like to compare ourselves to have many more people engaged in research and development in the business sector, even when population variations are taken into account. Israel for instance, has a population of 8 million but has around 65,000 people engaged in R&D in the business sector. New Zealand has around 9,000 (2012 OECD figures).
Not surprisingly then, New Zealand business spending on R&D is, as the report puts it, “particularly low”, hence the Government’s aspiration to lift it to one per cent of GDP by 2018.
As the NSSI states:
“To meet the goal of increasing BERD to 1 per cent of GDP, annual BERD will need to increase substantially. Government’s support for that goal will vary by sector. Achieving this goal will require substantial additional investment by industry, intensified government support and continuing co-funding by government.”
How do get that substantial boost in investment by industry? That’s the million dollar question. As everyone told me in Israel, it is about getting the ecosystem right – a pipeline of great ideas from our CRIs and universities that are worth investing it, incubators and accelerators spinning out viable fledging start-ups, multinationals keen to invest in R&D efforts here, foreign investors eager to co-invest with New Zealand venture capital companies and a skilled workforce supplying the industry with new creativity and capability.
It is a lot to get right and there is more competition for investment and skills among the world’s nations than ever before. But we simply have to get the ecosystem working better than it is now to boost the business R&D investment and therefore the number of R&D workers in business.