Green Paper portends big changes for the research, science and innovation sector and greater diversity

We should brace for big changes – and hope they amount to changes for the better – when the Government makes a grand announcement under the heading 30-year-old RSI system to modernise.

The Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways Green Paper has been launched by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods and Associate Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall.

This marks the start

“… of a wide-ranging and collaborative korero about the future f the RSI science system.”

 The Ministers are encouraging all researchers and stakeholders to join the “conversation”.

“The world is a very different place now to when our Crown Research Institutes were created in the 1990s. If the last 18 months have shown us anything, it is that we need to have expert science to make expert, dynamic decisions,” Megan Woods said.

“Our RSI system has served Aotearoa exceptionally well, but now it’s time to ask whether the system is set up as well as it can be to answer today’s pressing environmental, economic and social challenges, like climate change and child poverty.

“Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways is a programme that seeks to start an open and fulsome conversation on a range of issues facing the sector, but we’re not going into this with any pre-determined ideas.”

The RSI system has helped guide the country to successfully respond to COVID-19, Dr Woods said.

To ensure this great work can continue, she said,

“.. we need a modern, future focused research and science system that is connected, adaptable, resilient and diverse.” 

Dr Verrall said:

“Te Tiriti needs to be embedded right across the design and delivery of the system, and more opportunities need to exist for mātauranga Māori.”

We have extremely talented and high-performing people working in the research, science and innovation sector,she said.

“However, the high level of competition, and lack of focus on funding mechanisms to support workforce development, creates unease and stress. We want to see a system that supports its workers, and offers attractive and flexible careers and career pathways.”  

The Green Paper is the first step of exploring how to make the future research system a reality.

Dr Woods said everyone in the sector, and users and partners of the sector, should read the consultation paper and engage in the opportunities provided to make a submission.

There will be a range of opportunities for people to engage with the Green Paper.

In a speech she delivered at the launch of the green paper, Dr Verrall said the Ardern Government has ambitious goals to transition to a low-emissions economy that’s diverse, innovative, resilient, productive and inclusive.

“We want a rich and protected environment we can be proud of; to support healthier, safer communities; and to make Aotearoa New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.”

To achieve these goals, ambitious research is needed.

Already, the Government has committed to increasing spend on research and development to 2% of GDP.

But beyond more funding,

“… we need to ensure the research workforce is primed for success – and able to make fruitful connections across the sector. This is one of the major objectives of the Future Pathways programme.”

People are the core of the Research, Science and Innovation system, Dr Verrall said.

“Excellent people conduct excellent research when they have access to the right resources – including tools, data sets, facilities, and infrastructure … and equally as important – when they have opportunities for growth.

“We know our research sector is not representative enough of New Zealand, and the nature of these jobs is often precarious – especially for early-career researchers.”

Dr Verrall referenced Professor Wendy Larner, who said in her final speech as President of Royal Society Te Apārangi –

“The PhD is no longer an apprenticeship for a guaranteed university career.”

And:

“To be blunt, there are now too many PhD graduates for too few academic jobs.”

Dr Verrall said she agreed with Professor Larner, that we must work differently, to connect the large number of doctoral graduates with more diverse careers outside academia.

“There are simply not enough traditional permanent positions available in universities, so many early-career researchers are forced to take on one short-term contract after another.

“We also know only five per cent of researchers identify as Māori, 1.7 percent as Pasifika – and only 25.7 percent of professors and deans are women.

“We are taking action to address these issues.”

Dr Verrall mentioned this year’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Science Whitinga Fellowships as an example.  They supported 30 early-career researchers.

As well as criteria which included factors such as the potential for career development, the selection process involved a ballot with a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion to ensure a minimum number of women, Māori and Pacific recipients.

Similarly, the Government’s recent investment of $36 million in a new Infectious Diseases Research Platform, will build a pipeline of researchers in this field. It will include opportunities for early-career researchers to play a part – or to lead research programmes.

And research programmes will target health inequities in New Zealand, ensuring researchers represent a diverse range of communities.

Dr Verrall then said:

“But there’s more to do. How can we ensure we have the best workforce? I am confident the sector will have innovative ideas on how to better attract and develop talent, widen participation, and address retention issues. Te Ara Paerangi – Future Pathways will bring this to light.”

Alongside this consultation, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is conducting detailed workforce surveys – to determine key attributes of the RSI workforce, problems faced by institutions and individuals, and opportunities to improve connections and collaborations.

The consultation will be open until 2 March 2022.

Source:  Minister of Research, Science and Innovation 

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