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  • 31 May 2024 08:00 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The New Zealand Association of Scientists submission to the University Advisory Group is now available (PDF). The text of the submission appears below.

    Q1: What should be the primary functions of universities for a contemporary world?

    Universities were an almost magical solution to the problems of the 20th century. The same sense of magic has not applied when addressing the grand challenges of the 21st century. This has left universities lurching forward toward an unstable fate: the primary functions they provided to lift the wealth and well-being of our society in the 20th century must continue yet are not supported through government funding tied to student numbers and research. 

    We believe that the primary functions of universities should be supported as defined by s268 of the Education and Training Act of 2020,[1] which are unchanged from the section legislated three decades earlier. These functions, in our words and with our annotations, are:

    1. Providing for advanced learning, with the aim of developing intellectual independence
    2. Teaching is interdependent with research and the advancement of knowledge
    3. Achieving international excellence across teaching and research
    4. Serving as a repository of knowledge and expertise
    5. Accepting a role as critic and conscience of society

    The period since 2019 teaches us that providing for the stability of these functions should also be seen as a primary function of universities, sufficient to reconsider adjusting models for funding, governance and leadership as needed. There is reason to optimise and augment but not discontinue the mechanisms that link university finances to current drivers of funding. These driving sources of funding include the provision of teaching through the Tertiary Education Commission’s (TEC) mandate to ensure employment requirements are met, as well as demand for export education, and also the main pipelines of research funding. 

    With New Zealand’s universities increasingly respected nationally and internationally, by 2017–2019 there became a need to better understand how the functions and funding for universities should be stabilised. The current funding model places an overdependence on growth and future funding models must avoid the fragility we have recently seen, which appears to make their primary functions more visible while losing functions and capacity in areas key to an advanced economy.  We remark on the following key considerations.

    1. In (A) and (B) universities are not guaranteed ascendance over other bodies, most notably public research organisations (PROs) including but not limited to Crown Research Institutes (CRIs). They may be best placed to achieve these primary functions through connectivity in the most challenging fields (such as climate change), so that there is a spectrum across a community of experts[2] spanning teaching and research.
    2. Excellence (C) benefits our institutions primarily through the earned trust and respect of international peers, as well as stakeholders across the nation, rather than as something that must be carefully defined or measured to allocate resources.
    3. There is a need to fund and incentivise the ability of our system to be a repository of knowledge and expertise, able to sustainably replicate senior experts by training future leaders (D) and also act more unreservedly as critic and conscience of society (E). For a number of reasons, training fewer PhDs to a higher quality along strategic career pathways would be highly desirable.

    Q2: What should be the long-term shape of the university sector in New Zealand so that it meets these primary roles?

    The current shape of the tertiary sector is driven almost entirely by meeting student/employment demand in the TEC model plus full-cost MBIE and PBRF/CoRE[3] research income. There should be a more complete model that stabilises institutions while allowing adjustments and at the same time ensuring the core functions of universities are funded. This can be combined with the work of the SSAG to ensure the overall needs of the national RSIT system are met.

    It is also important to avoid assuming that growth will be inherently foundational within the future shape of the sector. The PBRF grew naturally to fuel uplift in the quality of research throughout the sector until 2019, but the PBRF is ill suited to sustain the excellence it has built with the kind, sustainable and collaborative culture consistent with our national identity. With the magic of universities to solve society’s problems remaining important but not growing, and increasing questions about whether an ever-growing portion of society should be educated through university degrees,[4] we recommend designing the future of the university sector around an attractive culture that sustainably and stably delivers the benefits society seeks from universities as defined in legislation (above).

    It must be said that careers form a defining element of the shape of the sector, and future design must also cater for careers while improving mobility and exchange with government, PROs, business and international counterparts. Embracing indigenous research careers and te ao Māori as defining elements of our nation must also be included in design. Maintaining a geographically diverse set of institutions is important in supporting the uniqueness of te ao Māori found across the motu. Dispersed institutions supporting primary industries have a high social rate of return so care must be taken to prevent competition driving smaller institutions into the ground. Interactions with Horizon Europe provide a glimpse of what this future can look like, and it so far appears that the role of Māori can play at least as big a role as our unique ecosystems and unique place on the Earth do in environmental research.

    As such, it would be beneficial to see shaping initiatives that more responsively self-organise while responding to national and institution-wide incentives: 1) improved support for administration at the scale of departments, disciplines and collaborative institutes/centres rather than centralisations that have not delivered efficiencies and often proven counterproductive and lacked transparency; 2) collaborations between institutions, seed funding, and career incentives that can be targeted at the scale of endeavour and from clusters or hubs that represent major initiatives, such as CoREs or initiatives that ensure mission-led research can reach the scale needed to deliver national/sectoral strategies.

    Q3: What are the barriers (excluding fiscal) that limit the universities from operating efficiently and effectively for the benefit of New Zealand?

    The competition between institutions remains a driving force that has shifted from supporting improved quality and performance to deleterious net effects that result in under-resourcing and poor culture or well being. This includes the potential for historic factors to contribute to a rich-get-richer dynamic as well cyclic hiring temporarily favouring younger units, potentially at the expense of retaining long-term knowledge and expertise.

    Q4: Can the eight universities function better as a holistic system to meet New Zealand’s needs? If so, how to establish a more differentiated yet cooperative sector?

    Yes, better and more holistic function should be expected: collaborate more; compete less. Good models that sit between a single University of New Zealand and eight separate, competing universities must be identified and tested. It seems unlikely that eight largely undifferentiated and competing institutions serve a population of five million or less in a stable way. Other nations, states or provinces with similar populations, including those in the US, Australia, and Canada, clearly create mechanisms where less deleterious competition exists and differentiated institutions fulfil more structured expectations. A re-envisioning of PBRF that still provides for monitoring and evaluation but is targeted to more structured expectations would be beneficial. Most of all, the basic systems theory that competition can be positive to orient growth phases but tends to be deleterious at steady-state equilibriums should be adhered to. Where a dominance of oversubscribed contestable funding interacts with systems like PBRF in the UK and Australia, we would ask if evidence exists that the deleterious effects of hypercompetition can be ameliorated. We fear the long-term impacts.

    Q5: How research-intensive do New Zealand universities have to be? Do they need to be research intensive in all subjects?

    As noted above, the long-standing legislative definition of universities implies they should be “a repository of knowledge and expertise” and enable teaching by leaders in research, which meets international standards of excellence. Inevitably there will be some fields where expertise may dominantly comprise full-time researchers in present or future PROs. It is likely that most areas of research expertise are better concentrated in a few rather than all universities. However, the CRIs have observed publicly that our universities do not train work-ready doctorates in many of their areas of work, requiring overseas recruitment. This speaks to a need for greater research capacity in universities, which can more ably replicate the expertise needed to support our nation, particularly in areas where knowledge is unique including geology, soil science, agriculture, ecology and indigenous research. Of similar importance, universities may play an outsize role as ‘critic and conscience,’  which should be grounded in sufficient research and expertise to convey credibility and trust.

    Q6: What is the appropriate mix of offerings in teaching, research, and knowledge transfer across the system to meet economic, environmental, and social challenges?

    The mix of offerings should be as broad as can be supported in a stable way, because future needs and innovation will emanate from the edges and gaps in knowledge more than well-trodden ground. We recommend a mix that is self-organising to propose and test solutions to major challenges across these three areas. We note also that for large-scale challenges, polycentrism may generate emergent solutions[5] that we too often stamp out with calls to eliminate duplication.

    Knowledge transfer focussed on commercialisation may be counterproductive when IP considerations prevent dissemination of research, impacting the perceived productivity of researchers when viewed through an output-metric lens. This aspect of the offering from a university should be carefully balanced with the potential for a more comfortable fit in other institutions (e.g. through secondment) while acknowledging participation of teaching academics in this process can be beneficial to students. 

    Q7: What are the most appropriate approaches to ensure excellence in teaching, research, knowledge transfer and community engagement?

    The CoREs have long been recognised and even loved as a solution to every aspect of this question. They continue to have wide support from academics but are currently funded at ~2008 levels per CoRE. The CoREs served as one possible model for National Science Challenges (NSCs) as collaborative hubs,[6] but the relatively monolithic activity typical of NSCs has displaced and distracted from the value of CoREs. The underfunding of CoREs is now so severe that funding either needs to be tripled or quadrupled or these bodies canned and combined with other funding (e.g. PBRF and SSIF mainly from CRIs) to rebuild coherent excellence in a sustainable form within clusters of activity representing significant national missions for research and teaching. We strongly recommend properly funding CoREs to achieve scale while effectively remaining collaborative hubs for excellence around key missions. They have well-functioning engagement, selection, evaluation and monitoring to deliver sustainable and often collaborative excellence, outshines the processes run or approved by chancelleries to allocate PBRF and other funds to research initiatives. 

    Q8: How to ensure universities play their role in advancing all segments of New Zealand society without compromising on the goals of excellence?

    Defining excellence is a problem that isn’t solved neatly across segments of research or expertise. Among the problems induced by this term is the simple reality that maintaining a constancy of excellence is an oxymoron. Yet administrative overheads seem to grow as a managerial burden from efforts to provide assurance or accountability around excellence that cannot be easily defined. Our nation would do better to embrace a series of goals from which excellence tends to evolve. Among these, it would be useful to include incentives to seek insights, develop adaptive approaches to solve grand challenges and wicked problems, and accept that sometimes accepting the risk of failure is a prerequisite on the path to success.

    Q9: What is the appropriate size for the domestic student body in the New Zealand universities?

    This question seems to conflate the growing query about what proportion of school leavers should attend university with the question of whether larger universities with greater critical mass, smaller units focussed more on teaching (perhaps more focussed on liberal arts – learning how to think), and having universities more accessible to students through smaller more dispersed campuses. This conflation should come as no surprise in a per student funding model, larger universities are better funded, and the rich get richer.  The answer to all these questions appears to be that a more differentiated university system funded largely on a needs basis would service the nation and adapt to its needs far better than a search for an appropriate student body size at a campus.

    Q10: How well are universities performing in the role as critics and consciences of society?

    Universities currently perform well in this role where the academics involved don’t come up against major funders of the university, and do not require substantial resources to be kept safe[7] as has occurred as the era of misinformation and disinformation[8] has grown to place experts at risk. Unfortunately, the situations where the critic and conscience role remains fully functional appear limited. The instability resulting from the financial crisis recently facing most of our institutions overlays with the growing risk of mis- and dis-information driven threats, and has combined with the escalating problem of precarity[9]and workloads to undermine the expectation that the critic and conscience role is appropriately supported.

    Q11: More appropriate questions should be developed. The UAG needs to consider a more complete high-level approach to historical inequities, institutional racism and the removal of wānanga from the s268 in the Act. Comparative case studies involving different universities and episodes in time are also worth pursuing.


    [2] Concepts such as community in this submission should be seen as consistent with and linked to our SSAG submission.https://scientists.org.nz/news/13360052

    [3] The Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) and Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs)

    [4] https://www.economist.com/international/2023/04/03/was-your-degree-really-worth-it

    [5] Loorbach, D., Frantzeskaki, N., & Avelino, F. (2017). Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 42(1), 599–626. doi.org/10.1146/annurev-environ-102014-021340

    [6] Jordan, N and others. 2010. "How to enhance the value of New Zealand's investment in Crown Research Institutes." Report of the Crown Research Institutes Taskforce. Wellington




  • 30 May 2024 19:20 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NZAS Co-Presidents Lucy Stewart and Troy Baisden have made initial comments on the Budget released by the coalition government today, expressing their concerns about the ongoing collapse in funding for the research and university sector. More investment in research and universities helps to lift nations out of recessions, enhances future wealth and productivity, without fuelling inflation.

    Dr Lucy Stewart comments, "Normally when assessing a Budget from the science policy perspective, we can look for bright spots - new spending and initiatives. Analysing this year's Budget is an exercise in determining how bad the damage will be, on the back of previously-announced cuts such as the cancellation of the Science City infrastructure programme and the failure to renew the National Science Challenges. 

    There is one genuinely welcome new initiative - funding for Geonet, the National Seismic Hazard Model, and the National Geohazards Monitoring Centre has been extended out until 2027, acknowledging the long-term nature of the funding needed to support this vital work in our geologically active nation. However, this funding reduces over the forecast period, leaving uncertainties in this area in the long-term. Looking out to 2027 the Budget has also forecast a total of $35 million dollars of actual cuts to the Marsden Fund, the Health Research Fund, the Strategic Science and Innovation Fund, and the Endeavour Fund in that year - perhaps to generously give researchers three years to find new jobs overseas. Otherwise spending is essentially flat, in a time of record inflation and on the back of decades of underfunding of the sector. Certainly there is no sign of anything which could come close to making up for the loss of the National Science Challenges, which we have already seen translate into proposed job cuts in the public science sector.  

    I expect to see more job losses across the sector before the end of the year. This failure to invest, at a time when the research and science sector has struggled to do more with insufficient funding for years already, will have inevitable consequences in loss of expertise as people move to better-funded research sectors overseas, as infrastructure continues to fail, and as research simply does not get done."

    Prof Troy Baisden adds: "Today’s budget doubles down on a pattern spanning four decades, in which New Zealand’s governments have been world leaders in choosing not to invest in the future. Aside from 1991, I doubt there’s ever been such a clear case that we’re determined to fall behind peer nations with our investment in research, science, innovation and technology. The same goes for the tertiary education sector.

    The budget is worse than a nothing burger for science. The relatively positive support for GeoNet and key capability GNS Science appear to be propping up areas previously funded by the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and the National Science Challenge on Resilience. 

    There are no other bail-outs for areas of national importance that had been supported by National Science Challenges, which received about $97 million per year in their peak years, with $64 million this year and no funding after next month. There are also no new bail-outs or capex support packages for the ‘Science City’ institutions in Wellington, most notably Callaghan Innovation. 

    Given the composition of the coalition, farmers might have hoped for some new research, but if there is I can’t spot it. Instead, the Ministry of Primary Industries is cutting about $4.6 million per year from its Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Research in coming years (a total cut of $13.6 m over 3 years). 

    The total lack of new funding comes on top of the inflation over the past year, and on a background of flat or decreasing funding. Out in 2027 and beyond, there’s a plan to pare back flagship contestable research funds, including Marsden and Endeavour by a small but significant amount. 

    The Table of Estimates produced with the budget also allows us to look back, from an estimate for the year just ended to finalised funding in previous years. Funding for the entire tertiary education sector has flatlined, following the period when Government helped stabilise the sector during the pandemic’s impacts. It seems there is no expectation of resuming the growth rate of about 24% between 2012 and 2019. 

    Government research and development (R&D) increased even faster, but is now declining. Excluding the R&D Tax Incentive and similar categories, our investment appears to have increased from about $820 million in 2015 to $1.4 billion or more in 2020 and 2021, falling back to $1.15 in recent years before stabilising at $1.1 billion. 

    This explains why times feel tight in parts of the sector doing well, and desperate in others. That should come as no surprise, as cabinet papers from 2021 to the present have expressed a lack of confidence and sought reforms, which will now extend in the university sector. 

    The pressure is on Sir Peter Gluckman, leading two advisory groups which must make a case for the reforms to help us rebuild the mojo that drives investment and success across the science system and universities. The groups will need to provide vision and hope for science and technology to address our biggest challenges with effective strategies in areas such as primary industries, and coping with climate change and hazards. Peer nations are investing more and more, and we should as well."

  • 28 May 2024 14:45 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The NZAS, together with the PSA Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi and other organisations representing scientists, have launched the Save Science Coalition to campaign against government cuts to science and advocate for the importance of a well-funded public science system to meet the needs of Aotearoa New Zealand. See the campaign web page here and our first press release

  • 22 May 2024 13:00 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The NZAS submission to the SSAG is now available (PDF).

    The text of the submission is below (apologies for any formatting issues). The submission was authored by Troy Baisden with Lucy Stewart and members of NZAS Council.

    NZAS submission to SSAG phase 1 consultation:

    In this submission, we express views developed since 2020 on what’s required to make key foundational improvements in the New Zealand RSIT[1] system. These improvements would enable the restoration of our processes, institutions and careers to the high-quality system Aotearoa New Zealand deserves and was once known for. We first express concern that the SSAG and UAG processes, while offering some improvements on previous processes, are too limited in fiscal budget, timeframe and diversity of expertise to address the breadth of the Terms of Reference (ToR), particularly in the manner outlined by the initial consultation questions. 

    We express frustration not with another genuine effort at consultation, but rather the nearly four decades of navel gazing[2] where valuable system diagnoses and recommendations are repeatedly lost to an affliction that the OECD’s 2007 analysis[3] identified as “automatic steering syndrome” – where oscillations between a few policy principles are accompanied by a lack of monitoring and evaluation. This has resulted in a confusing RSIT system with decreasing performance, capacity, respect, and trust. We wish to assist the SSAG in defining urgent repairs in the right direction.

    As previously expressed[4] and updated for SSAG’s ToR, our two key recommendations are:

    First, because great science needs foundations, we must rebuild careers and capability with a focus on addressing the nation’s challenges and making RSI attractive to young talent, particularly to Māori. We express concern that your questions do not address careers and success in the global competition for talent as an essential ingredient in restoring a successful RSIT system. Career paths play a pivotal role in rebuilding and sustaining capacity. They deserve consideration as an essential prerequisite for furthering international leadership in indigenous research. 

    Second, we must reforge an outward looking system able to address our big challenges. Rebuild compatibility with international collaborations and funding. Reconnect across industry, universities and all research providers. Retain and improve the ability to address challenges in areas like health and the environment. Reimagine enduring, integrative and international solutions using our collective failures to design RSI to tackle the biggest challenge – climate change – as a guide. By defining and brokering the win-win opportunities that diverge from perceived environment-economy trade-offs, RSIT must help lead the response to climate change as the biggest shift in industry and innovation in generations.

    How can we get there? The creation of the SSAG reflects a systemic problem defined by almost four decades of growing confusion. We applaud the coordination and intent of the SSAG and UAG, yet observe that the long-standing problems cannot be solved in the timescales defined for your reports nor in 3-year electoral cycles. The stated commitment of the coalition government to fiscal austerity[5] makes solutions more difficult – and change more treacherous. We therefore strenuously note that the SSAG’s recommendations must be more parsimonious and targeted than the questions for consultation imply. Further, we suggest the SSAG and UAG should begin to frame a call for a process that can recommend serious and coordinated change over a longer timeframe – such as a Royal Commission.

    We begin by addressing your Q8 because of the problematic role that prioritisation of government research played in Te Ara Paerangi as the substantive case for justifying new RSIT funding and structures. Around Wellington, and in the reports provided to the Priorities panel, it is apparent most government departments neither respect MBIE’s capacity in RSIT nor have clear strategies for their sector ready to prioritise research needs, and prefer that cases to Treasury address current needs. We can conclude that, with few exceptions, our concerns about the nation’s economy, environment and societal well-being cannot be separated from weakness in RSIT: we lack and actively erode our long-term strategies in areas critical to our nation that cross government, industry, and society.[6]

    A prominent exception demonstrates what is achievable: in the sector around Plant and Food Research (PFR), we see that a successful institution plays a critical role in the development, delivery, and maintenance of an industrial strategy for the sector. However, it is the sole success from excellent 2007 and 2010[7] recommendations, which worked to guide a self-organising system through the merger of two Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) to better achieve their core purpose. 

    To restore a broad, successful self-organising system that builds trust and innovation, we must solve some conundrums of science policy, including a hierarchical prioritisation of research funding where each level can identify mechanisms for strategy, funding and evaluating success. Problems can be linked to embedding siloed policy development within MBIE rather than allowing the self-organisation as recommended and implemented[8] but later reversed following the 2010 CRI Task Force report. Developing a more capable stand-alone RSIT ministry remains an alternative. We argue that the acid test for formulating strong science policy is the ability to take responsibility for developing a capacity for monitoring and evaluation – achieved by neither FRST/MoRST nor the present structures in MBIE. In the current environment, such a function should provide an early warning system for areas of nationally significant capability at risk of collapse. We argue that specialist science-led institutions are more capable of these roles than a ministry, but only if competition is decreased and trust rebuilt. 

    Further, there must be greater clarity on whether applied outcomes should primarily be funded by Vote SIT or the relevant funding Votes of other ministers, and how science policy supports cases to Treasury’s processes. For example, research for conservation and environment outcomes provides an illustrative example because it has been the subject of detailed studies of the lack of accountability between environmental outcomes and the funding of research by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.[9] Yet perhaps most importantly, it has been an area where our natural and managed ecosystems needs place us at a pinnacle of international interest and attractiveness, yet the confusion and funding culture has led almost all potentially visionary leaders to leave the country or be lost to invisibility or efforts to manage and fix the system. 

    Specifically, FRST’s ‘Outcome-Based Initiatives’ funding (2005-2015) has spawned enduring confusion about whether key research should be funded by Vote Conservation and Vote Environment versus Vote Science Innovation and Technology. A choice must be made to solve this challenge and must also stabilise funding caught in the grey area between the funding sources from each Vote. We argue that this issue is fundamental: a democratic society expects researchers and academics to be the beacons working at generational time horizons to guide and attract strategies, rather than follow the whims of 3-year parliamentary terms. No system delivering the morass we’ve seen for 20 years can muster the public funding and support that scientific leadership and vision requires. The system we must reforge may be most notable for depending primarily on ‘earned trust’ for quality assurance, as highlighted in the diagnosis of the UK system’s woes by Sir Paul Nurse.[10]

    We can contrast the desired state of RSIT in which the overall system and its components are appropriately funded and trusted to deliver outcomes with the present situation, where quality assurance and steering of public funding is provided largely by the consultancy revenue that funds ~50% of many CRIs. Much of this consultancy is effectively short-term research undertaken for government clients or in response to government policies and resulting litigation, which means we have developed a system that erodes public trust and is seen in too many cases as a source of rent-seeking sales pitches from ‘scientists’. We argue that the erosion of trust relates to our own bespoke version of The Big Con[11] – whereby we’ve created and effectively subsidised Crown consultancies that recreate our own version of the syndromes of “infantilising our governments and warping our economy” generated by overdependence on the Big Three and Big Four management and accounting consultancies. The dominance of consultancy must be replaced by focus on strategy and transforming CRIs away from for-profit structures that sit under the Companies Act.

    A principal step toward a better future for science must involve a shift away from this problematic model – which we picture metaphorically as buying a fleet of well-regarded used cars that have performed well internationally, rather than continuing to panel-beat our rusting Trekkas.[12] Ultimately, government research should give rather freely to our firms and our society wherever net benefits and spill-overs occur. The return of the global political economy to trade barriers and competing industrial strategies amplifies the importance of rethinking the need for a public research system that aligns the role of government research with industrial strategies that now need to address the problems of the 21st century including climate change, overlapping hazards and threats.

    This leads to a clear case for reform of our public research organisations (PRO) (Q4 and Q5within a larger RSIT system (Q3). They must be better able to connect to universities, government, business, communities, and with their international counterparts. Their ability to build innovation and trust is crucial yet lies on a spectrum that defines a need for different forms of industrial strategy, which guide their public face and internal ethos, as well as their approach to intellectual property. The future system should consist of PRO that are closer to or embedded in universities, as well as wānanga and Māori organisations, in ways that further public good, innovation and the closing of gaps and transaction costs. Our CRIs were formed to enclose applied research and consultancy at a time when this made sense – before understanding of Post-Normal science evolved[13] to suggest different structures are required to address the challenges of the 21st century, including climate change.

    Although it is possible a single organisation combining today’s Crown Research Institutes could function with divisions able to follow differing strategies, it seems by far best to allow the potential strategies to set the future form in the following areas:

    1. Primary production sectors - these sectors operate differently from tech or health and are subsidised internationally. Our dependence on primary exports requires this area to be given appropriate priority and thought. PFR serves as a leading example that must not be destabilised. It can aid AgResearch and Scion toward similar success, and accelerate progress toward capturing more complete segments of the value chain reaching consumers.
    2. Environment and Hazards – Research in environment and conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as seismic, volcanic and weather hazards all share cases where their primary value is public. These areas can be prioritised by assessment of value to the public, as well as the value of quantifying and managing risks affecting our nation as a prerequisite for investment. In addition, almost all of our research in these areas is largely or entirely unique to our nation, our ocean or territories such as Antarctica, so that the knowledge, IP, and researcher capacity has limited transferability with the rest of the world.
    3. Resources, Technology and Innovation – there are clear opportunities and roles for research that can be done anywhere in the world, yet grows successfully from clusters that build on our strengths. Sir Paul Callaghan referred to our likely successes as ‘weird and weightless’ – now exemplified by the emergence of leading rocket and space technologies. There is a role for the legacy of DSIR’s success, but it must be reconstituted to better connect today’s Callaghan Innovation with the successful parts of Industrial Research Ltd that entered Victoria University of Wellington, and a growing range of other university and independent capabilities. 
    4. Health – research in the health sector provides an important additional area where CRIs have not played a dominant role, yet the emergence of the Health Research Council and other structures have enabled successful research and strong leadership to build on itself across many institutions with clear national benefits. The relatively high transferability of health research internationally has helped fuel success, brought recognition of leaders, and made investment and IP management relatively straightforward, and even able to address issues of Māori data sovereignty.

    There may also be strong justification for a number of smaller special cases, which have at times thrived or struggled as independent research organisations. Notable also is the need to support museums and the unique services their curators and collections provide to research and society.

    Each of the four major areas above (especially #3) as well as the special cases should have the ability to scale up appropriate yet differentiated mechanisms to fund innovation and scale globally where appropriate (Q6). New Zealand’s funding should be rationalised to support a measure-to-manage approach, questioning the Research and Development Tax Incentive’s effectiveness as it balloons well past half a billion dollars.

    Clarifying these strategies would return us to a more optimal structure for funding research (Q7) that favours collaboration over the global tendency toward contestability that has fueled ‘hypercompetition’. We believe the correct steps are to identify the strategies that define PROs and Universities and provide stable funding bases that are more internationally compatible (lower overheads). Missions might have to partially await the development of improved national strategies, but can also catalyse and coordinate them. The most competitive funding should aim largely at seeding fundamental research and filling gaps. A clear opportunity to move away from our system’s problematic combination of high overheads and contestable funding can be outlined following Mazzucato’s book sequence from strategies, value, missions, and questioning alignment with consultancy. We believe that the failure to prioritise this sequence was a major error in Te Ara Paerangi’s White Paper process that deserves reconsideration.

    The RSIT system and its funding must also take steps to enhance connectivity and stability and clarity of accountability for delivering public value; remove contorted governance, false accountability with high translation costs linked to managerialism. We must remember that the delivery of research outputs and outcomes is only possible through the capacity of institutions and researchers with stable and vibrant careers. Currently little is done to incentivise these aspects of the system, nor encourage meaningful diversity in thought or delivery.

    We conclude by answering your Q1the public RSIT system and its funding must provide a foundation of support for the economy and wellbeing that the nation expects. It must rebuild a compact between science and society, so that society feels served by a system that also represents their needs and exudes competence deserving of trust. It should contrast from the present system which too often feels self-serving in ways brought on by commercialisation of state-subsided institutions. Your recommendations, and their implementation, will determine the degree to which the transition is made to respect and trust in public RSIT versus continuation of the warnings of the 2010 CRI Task Force report, that our institutional structures would choose a million dollars to their bottom line over 100 million to New Zealand’s bottom line.  

    Finally, we recommend that the SSAG consider a list of key documents and submissions that provide a view of what’s gone repeatedly wrong, despite valid diagnoses and incisive recommendations. The past problems with implementing successful system change should be targeted in structuring your group’s recommendations, in part through clear recommendations for evaluation and monitoring. Our co-presidents and councillors would be happy to discuss these matters with you.


    [1] We use RSIT to define Research, Science, Innovation and Technology, purposefully including ‘research’

    [2] https://scientists.org.nz/Reshaping/13350462

    [3] OECD. 2007. OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: New Zealand. pp. 12-13. doi:10.1787/9789264037618-en

    [4] https://scientists.org.nz/news/13274451

    [5] Including elimination of the Productivity Commission and evidence units and roles in key ministries.

    [6] Mazzucato, Mariana. 2014. The entrepreneurial state : debunking public vs. private sector myths

    [7] Jordan, N and others. 2010. "How to enhance the value of New Zealand's investment in Crown Research Institutes." Report of the Crown Research Institutes Taskforce. Wellington

    [8] https://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/default/files/CRITaskforceFinalreport.pdf

    [9] https://pce.parliament.nz/publications/environmental-research-funding-review/


    [11] Mazzucato, Mariana, and Rosie Collington. 2023. The Big Con: how the consulting industry weakens our businesses, infantilizes our governments, and warps our economies. New York: Penguin Press.

    [12] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trekka&oldid=1218920808

    [13] Funtowicz, Silvio, and Jerry Ravetz. 2020. "Post-Normal Science." In Science for Policy Handbook, 14-18.

  • 3 May 2024 12:00 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The New Zealand Association of Scientists says, “The Science System Advisory Group’s (SSAG’s) consultations and Terms of Reference (ToR) send worrying signals when combined with recent comments from the Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology (SIT), the Hon. Judith Collins.” 

    As science faces the largest cuts in decades, NZAS Co-President Troy Baisden says:

    “There is wide agreement this panel is set up to take short-term action. Consultation in the most recent reform has confirmed the sector knows action is needed. Yet, we watched in horror as the window for action passed and Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways left critical national capability headed for ‘fiscal cliffs.’

    “The latest interview[1] from the Minister is a flashback to failed thinking from the 1990s, aimed at ‘efficiencies’ and commercialisation, that keeps recreating the same problem. We need a national foundation of publicly funded research to build an economy that keeps us safe from hazards and climate change, enhances productivity, and the connectivity of knowledge. Only on a stable foundation can innovation thrive to drive economic growth and well-being.

    “Despite a Terms of Reference aimed at action, the Minister’s comments and consultation questions make it clear the SSAG’s first phase could be lost by reopening 40 years of navel gazing,[2] failing to produce the improvements needed now. 

    “In addition to stabilising the foundations in our workforce, institutions, and infrastructure on top of which future success as a nation lies, we now face two cavernous problems.

    “First, in an era when peer nations not only invest more in research but are reinstating trade barriers linked to industrial strategies, we almost universally lack strategies for our industry sectors that can mesh with our unique responses to climate change, hazards or risks of economic, supply chain and similar shocks. Plant & Food Research leads a sector that is one of our few bright spots but could be put at severe risk by doubling down on expectations that commercialisation is the future.

    “Second, societal and business responses to climate change, hazards or risks of economic, supply chain and similar shocks are built on public knowledge and trust. Our public research institutions dangerously depend on consultancy models for half their revenue, which growing evidence suggests can infantilise our governments, weaken our firms and warp our economy.[3]

    “The SSAG does not appear well-placed to address these problems, despite being formed to take fast action, presumably guided by the views of its chair.[4] In the long run, a more diverse panel with less commercialisation focus is needed. Ultimately, we need a considered process which acknowledges the uniqueness of our nation’s challenges and opportunities, and the long history of attempts to reform our research and innovation system.

    “As nations become more focused on strategies for industry sectors and the challenges of the 21st Century, such as climate change, the NZAS encourages submissions that identify immediate fixes; while also calling for a process better able to address the troubled history and scale of the challenge facing our nation’s research, technology, and innovation needs. 

    “With the Minister and Ministry placing so much focus on another hack at improving our commercialisation we must ask how the critical foundations of the publicly funded research system can be preserved in the face of the largest cuts in 30 years. There is real danger that unless stakeholders think beyond the SSAG’s ToR, the immediate good the SSAG recommendations can achieve could be outweighed by damage to the national capability. 

    “We need fixes now but must also rebuild the research system New Zealand deserves for the 21st century, so we once again punch above our weight to collaborate and innovate. The NZAS will post a draft submission next week, calling for a process such as a Royal Commission to overcome the repeated failures to reimagine our national research system.” 

    Contact: NZAS co-President: Prof Troy Baisden president@scientists.org.nz 

    PDF version of this release


    [2]See our compendium at https://scientists.org.nz/Reshaping/13350462

    [3] https://marianamazzucato.com/books/the-big-con/

    [4] NZAS Council agrees with approximately 70% of the Prof Sir Peter Gluckman’s submission: https://informedfutures.org/green-paper-submission/

  • 4 Apr 2024 10:00 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Friday April 5 will see what organisers intend to the be largest School Strike For Climate #SS4C since 2019. We have a press release embargoed until Marches begin at noon.

    This occurs at a time when government support for research including much of the climate and environmental research in the $97m per year National Science is falling off a fiscal cliff. Many additional research programmes will end within 18 months. No clear replacements mean an end to many careers in vital areas of climate science when we need more work. Read more in a group statement from climate scientists.

    To signal support for science in signs, pins and banners at #SS4C:

    • Please use #SOS #SaveOurScience
    • Also your areas of science relevant to climate change, and design simple messages.
    • Encourage groups of scientists to attend together to support the rangitahi youth – we will get separate message out to media about science.

    Find out more about events around the country. https://www.ss4cnz.com/locations 

    Stay safe for science: keep your message and yourself safe. Remember that protests can attract radical elements, as well as counter protesters. Either may be looking to cause tension, conflict or even violence.

    • Always be ready to escape safely, including meeting points and contact details for friends, family or colleagues you've come with. 
    • Check with organisers for stay safe guidelines and contacts.  
    • Diffuse or avoid tension. Stick to simple messages.
    • Take up concerns afterward, and be visible on social media or commenting on mainstream media blogs if there is confusion.

    Below, we're sharing some signs you could print and bring along: 

  • 19 Mar 2024 18:30 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    More news is starting to cover cuts hitting science and research in New Zealand. At first the cuts seem unbelievable and unthinkable.

    First off, the 11 National Science Challenges are coming to an end. Although they're initially a process that might replace them, it stalled and came to nothing. That means that 11 areas deemed to be the most important areas of research 10-12 years ago will fall off a funding cliff in just over 3 months.

    Second, over $400m of funding for infrastructure in institutions around Wellington was mooted by the last government and cancelled by the new government. Can aging and unsafe buildings be replaced just off of overheads and operating when most government budgets are being slashed by 7.5%? That's leading to painful cuts across a range of institutions, including the 'strategic reset' in Callaghan Innovation, which seems to lack any visible strategy.

    This weekend Lucy Stewart appeared on NewsHub explaining the wider consequences of Callaghan's 'reset'.

    RNZ had pieces including me and a good, long interview with a National Science Challenge director on Monday Morning. 

    Today I did a good 5 minute Q&A explainer for Wired show and podcast on 95b FM. 

    I've run that one through a transcription so the interview appears below.

    "You're listening to a 95 b FM podcast.

    National Science challenges were established in 2014. With the aim to tackle New Zealand's biggest science based issues and opportunities. They are funded through the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. The challengers have invested over $680 million of funding over 10 years. However they are due to expire at the end of June. This year, I speak to co president of the New Zealand association of scientists and honorary professor at the University of Auckland School of Environment Professor Troy Baisden about the impending expiry the significance of this loss and the future of science research funding in Aotearoa. 

    For those who don't know, could you please explain the national science challenges and what they intended to do? 

    The National Science challenges were a group of 11 different topics are challenges that were to attract scientists and stakeholders to work together to solve some of the biggest problems New Zealand could identify back around 2012. They included areas like the impacts of climate change uniquely coming from the Southern Ocean across us making the seas around a sustainable, as well as areas like high value nutrition, and keeping people healthy, if slightly touched on this a little already. But what sort of science does this cover? Do you have some examples of current research projects that are funded under these schemes? Well, I mean, it's hard to pin down any single area of science. But one of the ones that we're most worried about losing is the climate modeling and associated observations that cover large areas of the Southern Ocean. There's also a lot of research that covers seismic hazards and how, and also other natural hazards like storms and floods in volcanoes and how they may play out in New Zealand, and how stakeholders can engage to help protect us from those hazards. Those are the types of things that we worry most about losing. If indeed anything happens that we suddenly need that research or the information from it. 

    So the challenges are set to expire at the end of June this year. What is the significance of this loss for not only the science sector, but also for the research and contributions for the wider society.

     This is a huge sort of disaster in planning processes around science. There was a process designed to replace these big Challenges with something else that would work better than they've worked. One of the problems is possibly that they were underfunded for what they needed to do. And now we're going to cut them away entirely. That doesn't make any sense if in fact, they were working on the most important areas of research for New Zealand. The other logical thing that comes from that is what are the people going to do? And there, we're really looking at a situation where a number of scientists and particularly the leadership level are often leaving New Zealand as quickly as possible or have already arranged new positions elsewhere. People are retiring and there are real questions about what happens to the information and relationships that have been generated while these Challenges were running. 

    How if anything, as the government replacing contestable, funding for science research, what do you hope will be done? 

    The ideal situation would be two things. One is lifeboats for the areas of critical national capability that would allow the researchers to maintain and continue important research areas that matter both for New Zealand and internationally. The second thing would be to reinvigorate a new process that resembles but doesn't have to be like the process the last government ran, called Te Ara Paerangi, which was trying to find pathways forward for our national research system, which has been through multiple reorganizations over the last 30 years. Each one has been worse than the last. 

    So do we know what the government is doing? If anything? 

    No, there's essentially budget confidentiality around every level of discussion. And that's not doing us any good in the next two months, while researchers are leaving and institutions are planning their budgets, redundancies and cuts for the coming year. Most research organizations are planning difficult road shows, or have already announced major programs to cut researchers like the Callaghan Innovation strategic reset, no one has any clear strategies from the minister on down the only strategy seemed to be to cut red tape. But what that often means that only minor changes happen at the management and governance level. And it's the researchers that suffer and that quality of research and its ability to actually be the frontline when New Zealanders need research is what could be lost here. The biggest question is do we actually need National Science Challenge is to do what's required and the answer is no. What we do need is a funding level that's commensurate with our with peer nations and New Zealand has lowest levels of funding for government and university research of any peer nation. And that's really the issue here. It's getting some research in place that is stable supports researchers and their careers and can deliver for New Zealand. 

    That was co-President of the New Zealand association of scientists Professor Troy Baisden speaking about the impending expiry of National Science Challenges and the future of science research funding.

    That was a 95b FM podcast to hear more head to 95bfm.com/b casts"

    You can also find this post (and comment) on LinkedIn
  • 14 Nov 2023 11:30 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Our annual awards are happening today as part of our conference. Announcements begin at approximate noon. A livestream will be available with link on our awards page.

  • 2 Nov 2023 13:00 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) is releasing a Briefing for the Incoming Minister of Research, Science and Innovation (RSI).

    NZAS Co-President Troy Baisden says “Crucial decisions will be needed quickly to rebuild our RSI system to lift our nation’s performance and standing among peer nations.

    With our universities in crisis and the National Science Challenges due to end with no clear replacements, urgency is required.

    Our recommendations should be of use to the new Minister of RSI, and may also inform coalition negotiations to recognise the importance of this portfolio.

    Our nation’s ability to innovate and respond effectively to the largest challenges, most notably climate change, hangs in the balance.

    We define the need for focus in two areas. The first focus is rebuilding careers and capability as a priority. Secondly, we must reforge an outward looking system, more able to connect internationally, with business, with te ao Māori, and across our research institutions to achieve results.”

    We are providing these recommendations because we are the main independent body of scientists able to comment on entire system, with a focus on science policy and the history of science.”

    Access Briefing for Incoming Minister as PDF

    Access Press Release as PDF

  • 2 Oct 2023 08:00 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    From our election panel, the Science Media Centre's Q&A with parties, and other events, we've gotten a sense of where the parties stand in this election. None has earned an endorsement from the perspective of science. All have positive points, but ultimately none are committed to both of the things that are most needed to create a research sector that delivers and can attract and retain the talent needed to address the challenges we face in the 21st century. These two things are to provide the funding required to do the job and the institutional and career arrangements to provide stability.

    Here are our main points:

    • We are disappointed no party is going into the election talking about the 2% Research and Development (R&D) target set by Labour in 2017 as something that will be achieved. Worse, most of the new spending is Business R&D though a tax credit. This boost of Business R&D can’t be lauded as a success when we have no idea what’s that is doing or is even real. We know it isn’t hiring many PhDs and isn’t improving connectivity between business and CRIs or universities in an obvious way.  This need review.
    • Labour continues to promote Te Ara Paerangi. We agree the initial stages of this reform did a great job of listening inclusively to the sector's concerns, but that was well over a year ago now. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that Te Ara Paerangi is generating policies or reform agendas that will meet the concerns scientists expressed so clearly. Those that have followed the process are losing hope, and seeing lip service matched neither with funding nor actual change.
    • Labour’s defence and promotion of Te Ara Paerangi is missing in action on urgent topics like climate change research, which was the only specific science area prioritised in audience feedback. Having described them as intractable in the cabinet paper and as wicked problems in more recent times, the Minister seems to be saying she supports researchers working on these topics but not enough to convince Cabinet, government departments and Treasury to fund them. Unfortunately, the Greens – despite their strengths on climate action – are missing in action on this important ingredient in long-term success.
    • There’s no coherent narrative around how the murky National Research Priorities (NRPs) will work, despite an urgent timeline to create and fund them by mid-2024. Verrall has been caught promising that NRPs will deliver impacts that simply cannot be promised. Clustering and targeting work to priorities would deserve support, but that’s not what is proposed. Discussion of the NRPs at first sounds like an effort return to 2015 and repair what National Science Challenges could have been, yet the claims being made create alarming flashbacks of the 2005 funding experiments that still haunt our conservation and environmental research communities.
    • An interesting gap in discussion is the formal commitment to joint the European Horizons funding framework. While good for collaboration, it is concerning that we are joining only Pillar II, which is committed to specific European research priorities, rather our own.
    • An area where the Minister deserves substantial credit is elevating the stated importance of early careers as a foundation of the research system. They’ve been neglected for over a decade. The intent of the policies to support careers is excellent but it is baffling that the funding is half or less of what is required to rebuild the early career support system in place until 2010. This funding gap also makes a mockery of Labour saying their budgets are fully costed.
    • Biotech regulation was not a priority expressed by the audience, yet parties like National and TOP may be onto something suggesting reform of biotech regulations is more achievable than the NRPs.
    • The Wellington Science Hubs have become a point of discussion rather than an easy win.
    • At least 3/4 of Te Ara Paerangi reform agenda remains good but, unfortunately, is not being discussed or supported for implementation by the four largest parties. That said, the TOP candidate, Dr Ben Wylie-van Eerd, show us that minor parties can demonstrate competence on details and contribute to valuable policy discourse during elections. The NZ First candidate wasn’t far behind.
    • Our audience’s upvoting of questions may have made the strongest statement. Given the challenges faced and the lack of fundable progress on solutions, isn’t it time to stop being pragmatic and recreate an independent and visible ministry for research science and innovation capable of thinking through these challenges?

    This year's statements from the parties give us pieces to choose from, and we will soon arrive at uncertain hope that will come from assembling the pieces supported by a new governing coalition. 

    I'll close with the compelling opinion piece just out and ask voters to ponder its central point. The problem runs deeper than universities alone, but why is our politics unable to stabilise and support the people, institutions and knowledge we need to support our future as a nation? 

    Troy Baisden, co-president NZAS

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