Review panel says CRIs have a place in our science system but (no surprises here) changes are needed

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has released a review of the New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes it commissioned late last year.

The Te Pae Kahurangi Report was commissioned to present an independent view of the role that the institutes (CRIs) can and should play in meeting the country’s current and future needs.

It details a range of findings and recommendations that will inform MBIE’s post-election advice for the incoming government.

A key conclusion of the review panel is that CRIs remain a critical component of New Zealand’s science system but – the agscience sector will not be surprised to learn – aspects of the current system are not working well and the future will require an approach that is “more integrated”.

Funding and the competition generated by the funding system are among the issues calling for change. Continue reading

Mission control centre for methane-measuring satellite venture to be based in NZ

New Zealand has joined its first official space mission as a country to combat climate change and the mission control centre will be located in New Zealand.

The Government will contribute $26 million towards MethaneSAT, a state-of-the-art satellite designed to detect global methane emissions with unprecedented accuracy.

The mission is being led by a United States-based non-government organisation, Environmental Defense Fund, and its subsidiary, MethaneSAT LLC, which have signed a partnership agreement with New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

While EDF and MethaneSAT are initially focused on collecting data about methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, New Zealand intends working with EDF to consider how the data might be used to investigate and potentially lead an atmospheric science component of the mission related to agricultural methane emissions. Continue reading

Scientists raise questions about secret review of $1.6bn funding programme

New Zealand Herald science reporter Jamie Morton has reported the questioning of the Government’s refusal to release a review of a major science initiative that just received hundreds of millions more dollars of public funding.

The National Science Challenges, a set of 11 collaborative efforts, bring together thousands of researchers across different institutions and aim to tackle the biggest issues facing New Zealand.

Launched four years ago after each was finalised by a Government-commissioned peak panel, they range from work around freshwater and natural hazards to healthy ageing and nutrition, the challenges.

Funding – projected to reach a total investment of $1.6 billion – was allocated for 10 years in five-year periods, so that performance and future direction could be reviewed.

Last week the Government’s announcement of its approval of $422.5 million, bringing investment so far to $680 million, followed a mid-way performance review by the Government’s Science Board.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said the review had shown the challenges were “fundamentally changing the way science is being undertaken in New Zealand”.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) provided the Herald with a summary of the review, which stated the challenges were delivering collaborative programmes, supporting “excellent science” and had “appropriate governance and decision-making processes”.

But Jamie Morton reported the ministry had withheld the full review, prompting it to request the report under the Official Information Act.

The ministry’s strategic investments manager Danette Olsen was reported as saying the ministry did not release assessment or peer-review reports that supported investment decisions made by the Science Board.

“This empowers reviewers and experts to provide their free and frank advice, and also protects potentially sensitive information and intellectual property.”

The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) was “extremely concerned” by the ministry’s secrecy.

“This is public funding used for the national good,” president Dr Heide Friedrich said.

“The NZAS would welcome for review information to be made public, and thus contributing to a healthy discussion on research funding mechanisms.”

Science commentator and past NZAS president Professor Shaun Hendy was also critical of the process.

“Normally, scientific reviews of research programmes like these would be kept confidential, but the public were important stakeholders in the challenges and even played a role in selecting them,” he said.

“I think the lack of transparency in the selection of the challenges by the peak panel, particularly where this deviated from the popular voting, demands a higher level of public scrutiny than we might ordinarily ask for.”

Hendy said there had been some wins from the challenges – more than 150 projects were under way, delivering more than 400 publications since 2014 .  But they had also put an “extraordinary level of stress” on the science system.

“There has been a lot of discussion about the resource that is going into their governance for instance,” he said.

“Furthermore it would be very helpful of we had some public data on who is being funded and for what.

“Right now, it’s very hard to tell whether the challenges are engaging with emerging researchers or whether, as some of the criticisms have suggested, the funding is going to an old boys’ network.”

Another prominent scientist, MacDiarmid Institute co-director Associate Professor Nicola Gaston, said one of the biggest concerns around the challenges and their funding was an original indication they would provide a “de facto science strategy” for the country.

The development of the Government’s National Statement of Science Investment had gone some way to removing concerns around funding, because it had made clearer the relationships between different parts of the sector.

“However the balance between complexity and efficiency of our research system is a delicate one that does need monitoring — for now I would say that the stability provided by this continued funding is absolutely what the sector needs.”

Professor Hendy still wanted to see a tough audit of the way the challenges were selected, procured and contracted, “so we can figure out how this might be done better in the future”.

The 11 challenges are “A Better Start”, “Ageing Well”, “Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities”, “Healthier Lives”, “High-Value Nutrition”, “New Zealand’s Biological Heritage”, “Our Land And Water”, “Resilience To Nature’s Challenges”, “Science for Technological Innovation”, “Sustainable Seas” and “The Deep South”.

The biggest amounts in the second round of funding went to Science for Technological Innovation, Our Land and Water and High-Value Nutrition ($72.7 million, $69.3 million and $53.2 million respectively).

MBIE planned to release summaries of reviews of each of the challenges this week.

Source:  New Zealand Herald

Lifting R&D investment: Govt releases tax incentive discussion document

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Revenue Minister Stuart Nash today have released the Research and Development Tax Incentive Discussion Document for public consultation.

The Government is committed through its coalition agreement with New Zealand First to increasing business R&D expenditure to 2 per cent of GDP over 10 years, Ms Woods said in a press statement. The  consultation document is the first step being taken to achieve that goal.

New Zealand’s gross expenditure on R&D is 1.28 per cent of GDP – much lower than the OECD average of 2.38 per cent.

“Growing R&D is a key lever in diversifying the economy and creating new industries, businesses, and highly skilled jobs,” Ms Woods said.

“Sustained increases in government investment will be important, but we will also need to see an increasing contribution from the private sector, specifically in businesses undertaking R&D.

“That’s why we’re introducing an R&D tax incentive as a significant addition to the system of government support for New Zealand’s innovation system.”

Revenue Minister Stuart Nash says the R&D tax incentive will have broad reach across the economy and will enable businesses of all sizes to undertake R&D.

“An R&D tax incentive will offer a greater element of certainty to businesses,” he says.

“It will be a simpler process, and will open access to those that have either struggled to access support or have been shut out of the process in the past. The system should stand the test of time and give businesses the consistency and confidence they need to succeed.”

Establishing a tax incentive mechanism of this nature had to be done carefully, Mr Nash says.

The discussion document sets out the main design and technical features proposed for the R&D tax incentive.

Over the next six weeks, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, with support from Inland Revenue and Callaghan Innovation, will be seeking feedback on specific aspects of this proposal to ensure the R&D tax incentive is fit for purpose.

AgScience readers can visit MBIE’s website to read the R&D tax incentive discussion document and make a submission HERE. 

Source: Government press statement


Govt releases summary of submissions on future of science system

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has  released the summary of submissions received in response to the Government’s first Draft National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI), which sets out the current settings and proposed future priorities for the Government’s science investment.

The Draft NSSI was released for public feedback in May. It reviews the entire cross-government investment in research and development, and proposes potential reforms to the sector-specific research funds administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

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Govt announces $139m investment in new research programmes

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has announced that $139 million over six years will be invested in new science research programmes.

The 48 research programmes receiving funding in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s 2014 science investment round are in the biological industries, high-value manufacturing and services, energy and minerals, environmental, and health and society sectors.

“Science and innovation have crucial roles in achieving high-quality outcomes for New Zealand. The goal of the Government’s science investment is to produce excellent science with the highest capacity to benefit New Zealanders,” Mr Joyce says.

“The projects announced today will help to boost the productivity and competitiveness of our economy and generate knowledge that will help us make informed decisions as a society.”

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Survey of scientists shows dissatisfaction with National Science Challenges

Almost 300 scientists from government science institutions, universities and independent research organisations have condemned the way in which the Government’s National Science Challenges are being rolled out. They also are questioning the potential of the challenges to deliver benefit to New Zealand, according to a recent poll run by the New Zealand Association of Scientists.

The results, published on the NZAS website, contradict ministerial assurances that there are no problems with the challenges process.

NZAS President Nicola Gaston, in a media statement, said the sad thing about the survey responses was how disengaged scientists had become from the process.

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Host proposals sought for Food Safety Science & Research Centre

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye have invited seven organisations to participate in a Request for Proposals to host the Food Safety Science and Research Centre.

The centre is being established to promote, co-ordinate, and deliver food safety science and research, in response to a key recommendation from the Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) Contamination incident.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Ministry for Primary Industries are working together to decide the best possible host for the centre.

Among the criteria will be good linkages to international regulators, research organisations and the food industry.

The seven organisations that are eligible to respond to the RfP are:

1. AgResearch

The Cawthron Institute

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research

Massey University

Plant and Food Research

The University of Auckland

The University of Otago

Responses to the RfP are due by 29 August.

The Centre is expected to be operational by late 2014.

The RfP can be found here.

Website provides access to bioresource processing technology

 The Bioresource Processing Alliance’s new website provides a gateway to some of New Zealand’s top scientists, engineers and economic specialists in biological resource processing.

The BPA, an alliance between four of the country’s national research providers – AgResearch, Callaghan Innovation, Plant & Food Research and Scion – aims to expand New Zealand’s export opportunities by adding value to biological resources. Many of these resources are low value secondary by-products and waste streams from primary industries.

BPA board chairman Garth Carnaby says  the website will enable businesses and investors to tap into some of the best technical facilities, research and processing knowledge available in the country.

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Govt announces new funding for sheep and beef genetics research – but is it “corporate welfare”?

The Taxpayer’s Union has challenged new government funding of the sheep and beef sector.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce yesterday announced a $15 million investment over five years into advances in genetics research that will improve the profitability of New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector.

A new partnership, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics, will also bring together New Zealand’s existing sheep and beef genetics research by consolidating Sheep Improvement Ltd, the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Central Progeny Test, and Ovita.

Total funding for the new project from government and industry sources will be up to $8.8 million a year.

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