Millions more for science (but let’s examine it closely before we applaud too warmly)

“Joyce flags extra $410.5 mln for science”, BusinessDesk said in its headline on a report about Budget 2016.

Peter Griffin, writing on SciBlogs, was keeping his powder dry. The headline on his report was: “On the face of it, science did well”.

Here at AgScience we have yet to put the new spending under a microscope to see how much of it will benefit agricultural and horticultural scientists.

The relevant press statement from Science and Innovation Minister Minister Steven Joyce (one of four he issued this afternoon) said:

The Government will significantly increase its investment in science and innovation through Budget 2016’s Innovative New Zealand package, providing a further $410.5 million in operating funding over the next four years.

The increased funding would increase investment in the sector by a further 15 per cent by 2019/20, taking cross-government investment in science and innovation then to $1.6 billion annually.

The main features of the new spending  are:

1. $113.8 million over four years for the new Endeavour Fund

The biggest single investment is $113.8 million over four years for the new Endeavour Fund, previously known as the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment Contestable Fund, which has been re-focused towards longer-term, high impact, mission-led programmes of science.

The Endeavour Fund will invest in science that has a strong potential impact on New Zealand’s economy, environment and society. The Fund will increase in size from $182.7 million in the 2015/16 year to $200.4 million by 2019/20.

2. $66 million over the next four years for the Marsden Fund

This will increase the annual amount available for the Marsden Fund by 49 per cent over four years, growing it from $53.6 million in 2015/16 to $79.8 million in 2019/20.

The Marsden Fund supports excellence in science, engineering, maths, social sciences and humanities by providing grants for investigator-initiated research. It is highly sought after by New Zealand scientists.

3. $63 million over four years for the new Strategic Science Investment Fund

Budget 2016 brings together and expands a number of the Government’s strategic funding investments into a single new Strategic Science Investment Fund. This will provide a mechanism for the Government to initiate, evaluate and compare for effectiveness a range of different strategic science investments.

The new Strategic Science Investment Fund will include strategic funding (formerly known as Core funding) for Crown Research Institutes and independent research organisations, and funding for core science programmes and infrastructure.

The new funding in Budget 2016 will go towards strategic freshwater research, the operation of the Research Vessel Tangaroa; maintenance of the Nationally Significant Collections and Databases held in Crown Research Institutes; and developing New Zealand’s expertise in genomics and precision medicine.

The additional $63 million over four years takes the total value of the fund to over $250 million per year.

4. $97 million over four years for additional health research through the Health Research Council (previously announced)

Annual funding for the Health Research Council will increase from $77 million in 2015/16 to $120 million in 2019/20.

5. $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.

6. $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.

7. $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.

8. $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.

9. $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.

10. $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.

In his report for BusinessDesk, Paul McBeth noted that the new funding comes amid grumblings from New Zealand’s science community that the government has been too fixated on backing R&D at the commercial end.

Joyce has consistently rejected this.

Peter Griffin said the Government “claims” it will put around $100 million extra into science and innovation each year for the next four years in the series of funding top-ups announced in today’s Budget.

But:

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.

On contestable research funding, Griffin wrote:

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.

On core funding, he wrote:

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?

Griffin welcomed  spending for regional research institutes as “pretty exciting for the regions”.

This will foster the establishment of research centres that in time could have the impact similar to that (for example) of the Cawthron Institute 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.

Summing up, Griffin said the science sector should be reasonably happy with this year’s Budget.  The Government has been increasing science and innovation spending over recent years and this Budget continues the trend.

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