Science and innovation performance report – so how are we doing?

A snapshot of New Zealand’s science and innovation system has laid out where we are doing well and where there is room for improvement compared to other small advanced economies.

The Science and Innovation System Performance Report, just published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, is intended to benchmark performance of the sector over time.

The Science Media Centre has identified these key findings: 

The research sector is relatively small, but efficient when it comes to scientific publications produced per research dollar.

R&D expenditure has grown 77% since 2000, but progress towards the Government’s goal of business R&D surpassing 1 per cent of GDP is “slow but steady” (estimated at .60% in 2015).

– New Zealand produces relatively fewer graduates in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) than other Small Advanced Economies but numbers are growing.

– We have strong expertise in niche areas like astronomy, energy and physics, but do relatively little research in these areas.

The Science Media Centre asked innovation experts for their reaction to the report.

One response has been posted so far on its website –

Shaun Hendy, Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland and Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini comments:

“MBIE have produced their first science and innovation system performance report since MoRST and then MSI were folded into Steven Joyce’s super-ministry. We had a taste of MBIE’s new approach with the National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI) that was published last year and made extensive use of bibliometric data to try to benchmark our science and innovation system.

“This new report updates some of the statistics we saw in the NSSI, but for the most part takes a new approach to presenting the data that MBIE are able to access. We can expect the quality of this data to improve as the Science and Innovation domain plan is rolled out over the next few years, but for the time-being we must make do with what we have and this should engender some scepticism in what is presented.

“Nonetheless, the data we do have paints the picture of a science and innovation system that performs well on a per dollar basis, but one that could do with further investment. Relative to the small advanced economies, our recent performance has remained decidedly mixed across a range of measures.

“While MBIE awards itself a pass mark on its goal of lifting business R&D to 1% of GDP by 2018, for instance, the data in the report provide little assurance that this is on track. Despite all the attention that business R&D has received in the last few years, it remains anaemic. This is very disappointing as it limits the long term growth of our economy.

“One statistic I track with interest is the number of post-doctoral fellowships available for early career researchers. This took a significant hit a few years ago when this government cut our national post-doctoral fellowship scheme. The numbers in this report suggest that the rest of the science and innovation system has not filled the gap left by this scheme, but at the same time this deserves further scrutiny.

“As Nicola Gaston, past-President of the NZAS, pointed out on Twitter (@nicgaston), it doesn’t seem credible that GNS Science had no post-doctoral fellows employed in 2015 as the report seems to suggest. I look forward to seeing improved reporting of this and other statistics in coming additions.”

The full report and a snapshot of the key benchmarked metrics is available here.

A press release from Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce is available here.

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