Archive for the ‘Science funding’ Category

Rutherford Discovery Fellowships – 2018 funding round and roadshows announced

Applications for the 2018 funding round of the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships will open on Thursday, March 1.

Announced by the Government in May 2010, these fellowships will support the recipients for a five-year term and provide funding up to $160,000 a year (excl. GST).

The Government’s purpose in establishing the fellowships is to support the development of future research leaders, and assisting with the retention and repatriation of New Zealand’s talented early- to mid-career researchers.  

  •  Early- to mid-career researchers are researchers who have been conferred with their doctoral degree between three to eight years before the year in which the Fellowship is awarded. For the 2018 funding round the eligibility time frame is 1 January 2010 – 31 December 2015.
  •  Applicants must be either New Zealand citizens or applicants who have continuously resided in New Zealand for at least three months before their application and hold, or are deemed to hold, a New Zealand resident visa.
  • A web-based Proposals On-Line system will be used. Prospective applicants must first contact their research office coordinator to obtain login details for the web-based proposals portal.

Applications close on 12 April 2018.

Further information can be found on the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships page.

The Royal Society Te Apārangi will hold a series of Roadshows around the opening of the funding round, which will outline the application process and provide an opportunity for applicants to ask questions.

The first Roadshow will take place at Massey University, in Palmerston North, on Wednesday.

A list of the scheduled roadshow dates and venues can be found here. 


New funding for NZ-Korea intelligent farming research project

Plant & Food Research reports it has been successful in the latest round of MBIE’s Catalyst Strategic Fund for joint research partnerships between NZ and the Republic of Korea.

The new three-year project will focus on real-time monitoring of plant health, nutritional status and fruit development, a key challenge for intelligent farming and smart harvesting.

The project will include scientists from Plant & Food Research, the University of Waikato, Seoul National University and Korea’s Rural Development Administration.

Automated remotely monitored sensors will be applied to assess plant health, water status, fertiliser needs, and fruit growth and maturity. This information should allow timely, less wasteful addition of water/fertiliser, and more accurate prediction of harvest maturity.

Callaghan spending on entertainment and travel goes under the microscope

Callaghan Innovation spending has been put under the microscope by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, which yesterday released a breakdown (HERE) of the science-funding agency’s entertainment expenses for 2015/16.

The privately funded monitor of public spending also examined Callaghan Innovation’s spending on domestic and international airfares in 2015/16.

For good measure, today it announced it has asked the Ombudsman to look into its allegation that Callaghan Innovation abused the Annual Report process to avoid responsibilities under the Official Information Act.

The Taxpayers Union has long been carping about aspects of the public funding of research and development.

In June last year its report, Socialism for the Rich, by Jim Rose, showed the annual cost of “corporate welfare” had climbed to $1.6 billion – or $931 per New Zealand household.

The Taxpayers’ Union commented:

In the past, the Government has directed investment at ‘public good’ science – research and development that has low commercial viability. Now, funding is going towards trying to commercialise technologies in the private sector. It’s socialised costs for privatised profits.

Last month the Taxpayers Union revealed Callaghan spent $304,000 on “entertainment” in 2015/16.

At the weekend it published a breakdown (available here) of those expenses for 2015/16.

Among the items were:

* $5212 on 188 visits to the Beer & Burger Joint (downstairs from Callaghan’s Auckland office);

* $4298 on lunches and dinners at Marvel Bar and Grill;

* $2063 on a team dinner at a drag queen cabaret bar (K Road’s Caluzzi);

The Taxpayers Union commented:

“Much of this spending is justified as entertaining ‘clients’ – but that’s absurd considering this agency’s ‘clients’ are actually businesses receiving Callaghan’s taxpayer-funded handouts. These ‘clients’ are already getting taxpayer pork; boozy dinners and latte lunches are just the gravy on top.”

According to the Taxpayers Union analysis of Innovation travel expenses, the 384 staff (as per their 2016 Annual Report), spent an average $2,641 apiece in domestic airfares and $1,079 on international airfares.

The union’s comments:

“Where on earth is Callaghan flying? They already have teams based in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

“The international travel spend is just as bad. Callaghan only operates in New Zealand, but still spent $414,000 on overseas airfares in just a year.

“We suspect part of this travel expenditure is for ‘customers’, i.e. businesses applying for grants. This is absurd – these businesses are receiving taxpayer money, now we discover we also pay for their flights, accommodation, wining and dining

The referring of Callaghan Innovation to the Ombudsman is a response to Callaghan’s response to a request on August 10 for a breakdown of its entertainment expenses for the most recent financial year, 2016/17.

Callaghan denied this request on the basis that:

“If we were to provide you with the information you have requested, we would be releasing information about our total expenditure before it is published within the Callaghan Innovation 2016/17 Annual Report. We are therefore refusing your request for this information under section 18(d) of the Act, as the information you have requested will soon be made publicly available.”

When the Annual Report was released later in the year, total expenditure figures were included but not broken down to show entertainment, accommodation, and airfares.

Callaghan has said (HERE) its total spending was “not unreasonable for a client-facing organisation of our size”, but there were a few cases of spending that were “not appropriate”.

It said it has tightened relevant policies to ensure work-related spending by staff is modest and appropriate for the public sector.

Part of a diversification policy? Science bureaucrats party with drag queens

The Taxpayers’ Union has revealed that a small government agency charged with fostering innovation, research and development spent more than $300,000 on “entertainment” in 2015/16 – including a drag queen dinner and show for staff.

The Union gained receipts (see HERE) for Callaghan Innovation’s entertainment purchases via the Official Information Act.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams said:

“From a laundry list of receipts from bars, cafes, and restaurants, we’re still working through abuses of taxpayer money. Already we’ve discovered a blatant example: $2,063 ($2,372 including GST) spent on a team dinner at a drag queen cabaret bar, K Road’s Caluzzi.

“Dinner at Caluzzi includes a show, and a promise that ‘you will be entertained and served by our fabulous drag queen hostesses throughout the night.’ The bill included eleven bottles of wine, and one non-alcoholic drink.

“We’ve got nothing against drag queens, but this was an event for staff, funded by taxpayers. It’s an appalling display of largesse from an agency the average taxpayer hasn’t even heard of.

“All up, $304,675.22 was spent on entertainment in the 2015/2016 year. That’s enough money to host a Sunday barbeque for the entire city of Invercargill.*

“Our researchers have also requested and are awaiting the entertainment expenses for 2016/17 with anxiety.”

Callaghan Innovation is a government agency supporting hi-tech businesses in New Zealand.

It provides pilot plant services, state-of-the-art shared facilities and R&D expertise like the Gracefield Innovation Quarter and the New Zealand Food Innovation Network.

It is involved in Science for Technological Innovation, a 10 year research programme involving all New Zealand universities, SCION, AgResearch, GNS and Lincoln Agritech.

In the 2016 financial year, the Government gave Callaghan $223m.

From this, Callaghan provided nearly $86m in growth grants to 51 businesses. Almost $23m went to hundreds of businesses in project grants and another $4m was given to students.

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesperson told Stuff before the general election Callaghan spent $68m in “operational funding” such as programmes and services.

* Based on a barbeque for four, including 1kg of sausages ($6), a box of Lion Red ($15.99), a can of tomato sauce ($1.60), and a loaf of bread ($1).

Scientists claim Callaghan Innovation is focused too much on economic gain

Callaghan Innovation has been criticised by some scientists who claim it cares more about economic gain than the science behind it.

The Crown agency was created to strengthen the ties between the science and business community through grants.

But University of Auckland physics professor Shaun Hendy is reported by Radio New Zealand as saying it hadn’t worked well, and there had been too much focus on economic gain.

He wanted the agency to be given a mandate to make broader links.

“Not just with the business sector, but the social sector, the government sector, so right across New Zealand society – Callaghan could be that bridge.

“These days we’ve got to look a lot more broadly. We’ve got to look at social impact – social enterprise for example – and look at the environment as well.”

Callaghan Innovation’s briefing paper to the incoming minister says the agency is projecting an expenditure this year of $307m including $204m on grants.

Radio New Zealand noted the agency had been named in memory of award-winning scientist Sir Paul Callaghan, a leader in the field of nanotechnology and magnetic resonance, and founding director of the MacDiarmid Institute.

He was a champion of science and technology being the key to diversifying New Zealand’s economy.

Nicola Gaston, a principal investigator at the MacDiarmid Institute, told Radio New Zealand she feared that vision had been skewed in recent years.

“I think it was a message that scientists needed to hear at the time … but since he said that we have had so many changes in our science system.

“I feel like we’ve gone too far.”

Dr Gaston said the Government should look at how Callaghan Innovation was running.

“My feeling is there’s just been so much of a one-dimensional push towards increasing commercial research.”

Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods referred to her Government’s intention to introduce a research and development tax credit. She said this would help keep the ideal balance between research and business.

“The balance between grants and R&D tax credits will tip things and will have businesses able to make a whole lot more of their decisions about the research and development that they’re going to invest in internally without going through the grants process.”

Ms Wood said she had expressed a concern about the funds being held by one organisation.

But although this was a difficult thing to manage, she credited Callaghan with having done a reasonable job of it.

133 projects are selected for Marsden funding from an increased pool of $84.6m

Massey University is delighted its researchers have received more than $15.6 million from the Royal Society of New Zealand’s annual Marsden Fund for 26 projects, a record number of projects funded and total funding.

The 26 successful Marsden grants – made up of 10 “Fast-Start” grants for new and emerging researchers and 16 standard grants – represent 18.4 per cent of the total funding pool this year.

The projects include studying super-heavy elements, Māori resilience in post-disaster contexts and sexuality and ethical deliberation in residential aged care.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas congratulated the researchers, saying competition for research funding is intense and  133 research projects selected to receive funding nationwide were chosen from more than 1000 preliminary proposals.

The 133 projects are being funded for a total of $84.6 millionm a significant increase from last year’s $65 million.

The Fund received a boost in the 2016 Budget of an additional $66m over four years, which allowed more proposals to be funded and increased the success rate from 10.7% last year to 12% this year.

Full Marsden Fund results are available on the Royal Society Te Apārangi website.

The Science Media Centre is posting expert reaction to the results on its website.

  • Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, Department of Physics, University of Auckland, comments:

“It’s great to see that the Marsden Fund continues to act as it should, in supporting researchers across the science and humanities research spectrum. It is fantastic to see the anticipated increase in success rates deliver, and in particular to see the effect of this on the number of early career grants coming through.

“Success rates remain low, however, and the increase in research funding to OECD averages promised by the new government cannot come soon enough. In particular, the Marsden Fund continues to hold itself to account and report carefully on gender and ethnic equity; this demonstration of best practice should make the Fund a worthy target of that promised increase.

“It’s even nicer to see that there has been a significant increase in the number of Māori researchers funded: this metric has been too low for too long, and it is to be hoped that this year’s data is a sign of real progress – though this is yet to be seen, time will tell.

“It is also really exciting to see the range of projects that have been funded. This is work that underpins and enhances the expertise of our universities and research institutes, and we are all richer for it.”

  • Professor Shaun Hendy, Director, Te Pūnaha Matatini, University of Auckland, comments:

“This is the largest number of Marsden projects awarded in one year and is also one of the highest success rates – in fact, with just over 12% of proposals funded, it is the highest success rate for applicants to the fund since 2003. This is due to the largest real increase in funding since the Marsden Fund was created.

“It is also pleasing that this large increase in funding didn’t simply lead to more proposals being submitted, which would have lowered the success rate and increased the burden across the sector. It was established researchers that benefited most from this increase in funding, with early career applicants receiving the lowest proportion of funds since 2008.”

A change in Govt funding policy – but perhaps not before Apple gets a $25m bite

There’s only so much money in the Government’s science funding pot so it’s always worth keeping an eye on how much will be in the pot and who gets how much of it to do what.

At Fairfax’s Stuff site, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Megan Woods has confirmed the Labour, NZ First and Green Government will be reintroducing research and development tax credits.

Under the scheme, companies wanting government money to keep up with technology trends will no longer need to apply for grants from Callaghan Innovation.

Instead they will have the option again of claiming back a credit for privately funded research.

This was portended by Labour’s campaign commitment to a 12.5 per cent tax credit for research and development.

According to the Stuff report (HERE) –

The National Party axed tax credits when it was elected in 2008. They were replaced by Callaghan, which handed out $113 million in grants to hundreds of businesses last year.

Woods did not outline any specific changes to come for Callaghan and, prior to the election, said her party was not proposing any, despite criticising National’s system as “bureaucratic” and “picking winners”.

This week she said she would be meeting with respective government officials – likely from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Callaghan – to discuss a roll-out plan for the scheme.

Woods said Callaghan occupied a “really important space” in the innovation industry and more businesses undertaking research and development would be a “huge cause for celebration” for the agency.

Business leaders seem to be welcoming the change.

ManufacturingNZ executive director Catherine Beard said businesses would happily welcome back tax credits, especially those that did not fit Callaghan’s criteria for growth or project grants.

However, she said the Government should ensure that applying for the tax rebates involved little paperwork.

And –

The Manufacturers’ Network (previously named the New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association) chief executive Dieter Adam said it was great to see tax credits return.

But he was concerned that if Labour was only in government for one or two terms, the credits could easily be axed again by the opposition.

“That would be a huge waste,” Adam said.

The Taxpayers Union, meanwhile, is critical of money being dished out under one of the the old Government’s funding programmes.

Union executive director executive director Jordan Williams says the world’s most profitable company is set to receive up to $25 million a year in corporate welfare grants, thanks to Callaghan Innovation’s ‘growth grant’ programme as a consequence of Apple buying  PowerbyProxi, a major recipient of the R&D grants.

Williams said:

“First it was money for Larry Ellison’s Oracle, then French company Gameloft, and now Apple is getting in on the action. Our Government’s corporate welfare schemes make New Zealand a laughing stock. We pay for R&D and don’t even require the results to stay in New Zealand.”

“Designed in California, funded by Kiwi taxpayers. Anything that results from the R&D ends up in the pockets of Apple’s shareholders. It’s nuts.”

“Callaghan Innovation is trying to defend the grants by pointing out that they couldn’t have known the business would be bought by Apple. But that’s mischievous. Korean giant, Samsung, has owned a substantial equity stake since 2013.”