Merger of MoRST and FRST

The most significant changes in the New Zealand science system for 20 years are now under
way. There will be major changes in the ways Crown Research Institutes are funded and
managed and the Government is merging the Ministry and the Foundation for Research Science
and Technology (MoRST and FRST) into a new Department for Science.

Dr James Renwick, President of NZAS, welcomes these changes. “The Government is taking
bold steps to fix a system that has long been broken and is to be commended for this.”
However, he also sounds a note of caution about the proposed MoRST-FRST merger – “Great
care will be needed to maximise support for research and development for the good of New
Zealand, and to create an effective new policy and management body. Although the merger is
an opportunity to act strategically for the future of the science sector, our concern is that the
changes are being made rapidly.”

Dr Renwick commented that “We run the risk of making a quick fix, that will inevitably focus on
the short-term, more operational side of the publicly-funded science sector. The opportunity to
take the long view and plan carefully for the future may be lost through a desire to ‘get a result
by Christmas’.”

“The overly-competitive science environment of the past 20 years has naturally bred a culture of
mistrust and competition rather than collaboration, amongst CRIs, Universities, and other
research providers” said Dr Renwick. “The patch-protective behaviour that has built up over the
past two decades will take years to neutralise.”

“New Zealand needs a science policy and funding agenda from Government that provides the
strongest possible support for a move to a collaborative framework, rather than on-going
competition. The MoRST-FRST entity is going to have to play a major role in changing the
culture, leading to relationships based on trust among research organisations and the new
Department of Science. This makes it important that the merger be done the right way.”
“If done in haste, there is a major risk that the old ways of doing things, including the purchasing
behaviours that create the distrust, will simply continue in the new organisation” he said.
NZAS is looking to the Government for creative new ways to fund, and to set policy for, science
and technology in New Zealand. A mere merger of existing organisations, with a focus on short-
terms results and accountability, will not achieve the results the Government, and the New
Zealand science community, are looking for.

“Science funding must be handled in a much more long-term and devolved manner than at
present” said Dr Renwick. “Evidence-based policy-setting must be based on much better and
easier communication between officials and the science community at large.”

New Zealand Association of Scientists (nzas.rsnz.org) is a nationwide association of practicing
research scientists spanning the universities, technical institutes, Crown Research Institutes of
Science NZ, government departments, industry, museums, other science institutions, and
independent researchers.

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