Budget 2016: On the face of it, science did well

The Government claims it will put around $100 million extra into science and innovation each year for the next four years in a series of funding top-ups revealed in today’s Budget.

It is always hard to tell for sure this early in the piece whether some of that is money reallocated. But the big ticket items certainly do appear to have significant new investment attached to them.

Contestable research funding

The country’s two major independent research funds get boosts with the Marsden Fund receiving $66 million extra over the next four years and the Health Research Council getting $97 million additional funding over the same period. This should make researchers very happy, but many will point out that it only makes us look less bad internationally when it comes to per capita research spending and success rates for funding applications. For instance, this Marsden increase may see success rates go from around seven per cent to nine per cent.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s new Endeavour Fund bundles in the old contestable funding schemes it ran and which it has controversially restructured removing some of the discipline-based funding pots. In the words of the Government, it has been “re-focused towards longer-term, high impact, mission-led programmes of science”.

The Fund will increase in size from $182.7 million in the 2015/16 year to $200.4 million by 2019/20.

All up, those funding increases amount to tens of millions extra in contestable funding that New Zealand researchers can go after which is a very good thing.

Core funding

The Government directly funds the Crown research institutes and science infrastructure, which it is now dealing with in the newly announced Strategic Science Investment Fund. This involves a serious amount of money, over $250 million a year with the additional $63 million over four years announced today.

That extra money is specifically going to “strategic freshwater research”, the operation of NIWA’s research ship Tangaroa, the maintenance of nationally significant collections and databases held in the Crown Research Institutes (which presumably includes taxonomic collections a Royal Society recently highlighted the importance of, and “developing New Zealand’s expertise in genomics and precision medicine”. The CRIs will be happy about this boost, but the release has some pointed language in it: “this will provide a mechanism for the Government to initiate, evaluate and compare for effectiveness a range of different strategic science investments.” Suggesting perhaps that the effectiveness of those significant investments haven’t been so clear to date?

Regional research institutes

This is pretty exciting for the regions – the establishment of research centres that in time could have the impact that for instance, the Cawthron Institute has in Nelson. Already three proposals for regional research institutes have been shortlisted, but the Government has recognised they’ll cost a fair bit to set up. It is also looking further down the line to helping establish further research institutes, hence the $40 million over four years announced today. This is a major plank of the Government’s strategy to boost regional economic development.

A grab bag of other things

A number of smaller funding anonuncements in the science and innovation space included:

  • 15 million over four years for the new Catalyst international Fund

This will support initiatives to strengthen international research collaboration and link New Zealand with world-class research projects, groups and infrastructure around the world.

  • $12 million over four years for the Pre-Seed Accelerator Fund (previously announced)

This funding will support the commercialisation of publicly-funded research, enabling a greater economic return on New Zealand’s science system.

  • $3 million over four years to continue the Accelerators Programme (previously announced) 

This will support the rapid formation of early-stage information technology and digital start-ups.

  • $4 million over four years for the Māori Innovation Fund

This will help more Māori enterprises gain the skills, knowledge and networks they need to get new ventures off the ground and grow existing businesses and asset bases.

  • $20 million over four years for the Global Research Alliance

This funding will be used to progress Global Research Alliance research through proof-of-concept to pilot studies and commercialisation, and support international initiatives that address mitigation of emissions from livestock. The Global Research Alliance was established in 2009 and aims to bring countries together to find ways to grow more food without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

  • $16.7 million over four years for Antarctica New Zealand

This funding will sustain Antarctica New Zealand’s provision of logistics support and related services, which is used to facilitate research undertaken within the Government’s science priorities for Antarctica.

Not a bad Budget

Given all of that, the science sector should be reasonably happy with this year’s Budget. There’s more in the pot for research than I was expecting. The Government has been increasing science and innovation spending over recent years and this continues the trend. The Government knows it has a fair way to go to get R&D levels up and to see the economic spin-offs from the investment it is putting in. This certainly suggests it understands that a bigger investment is needed in this area.

What did you think of the Budget and what it offered up for science and innovation?

One Comment

  1. Stephen Thorpe (@stho002)

    Craig Stevens: Crazy science – but is it crazy enough? http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11747919

    This is an embarrassingly contrived and condescending rhetorical attempt at defending Marsden Fund from criticism that it represents a waste of public money. It doesn’t even make sense:

    “Sometimes the ideas help solve a problem we can all identify with, but more often they seem plain crazy. And that’s the idea”
    And this makes sense, how?

    “…arguing that we needed to walk a line between something that the world needed, but remained niche enough that it wouldn’t just disappear overseas. This perfectly weird stuff must come from somewhere”
    And this makes sense, how? So, let me see, we want to discover or invent something that the world does need, but which is “weird” enough that the world doesn’t steal it from us, this “perfectly weird stuff” which “must come from somewhere”. Yeah, right …

    “In which case a year of Marsden funding would get us about 2km of Transmission Gully, at the cost of getting dumber as a nation”
    So, without Marsden Fund we would get “dumber as a nation”, would we indeed?? Well, at least we might be able to get out of Kaikoura by road! Even with Marsden Fund, it doesn’t appear that the president of the NZ Association of Scientists can write in grammatical or coherent English sentences!

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