Three-year Marsden Fund Investment Plan released

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith says the new three-year Investment Plan for the Marsden Fund, launched by the Marsden Fund Council, will help guide the strategic direction of the fund and contribute to the National Statement of Science Investment.

The Marsden Fund Council, which oversees the fund, developed the plan following an assessment earlier this year undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The fund was found to be highly regarded, well-run and effective at selecting high-quality research within its current settings, but recommended an investment plan to provide strategic direction, and ensure the fund continues to be effective and fit-for-purpose.

“The National Statement of Science Investment sets clear expectations for Government investment in research – we invest in excellence and we invest for impact. This plan signals a number of adjustments that will align the Fund with our broader vision for the research sector,” says Mr Goldsmith.

The Investment Plan outlines key changes which will be put in place for the 2018 funding round. These include:

  • Introducing a new award to support large interdisciplinary projects, worth up to $3 million;
  • Allowing researchers to apply for follow-on awards to sustain momentum for outstanding research;
  • Modifying assessment criteria to align more closely with the National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI), including the potential for significant scholarly impact;
  • Trialling a broader assessment panel structure;
  • Undertaking additional moderation between panels to ensure the quality and consistency of research selected from all disciplines; and
  • Providing more feedback to unsuccessful applicants and institutions following on preliminary proposals.

“The Marsden Fund has delivered high-quality research for the last 23 years and I’m confident that the strategic direction outlined in the Investment Plan will ensure it continues to do so for many years to come,” Mr Goldsmith says.

Further details on the implementation of the plan will be provided to the research community through a series of roadshows around the country, organised by the Royal Society Te Apārangi. The Marsden Fund Council is developing a Performance Framework for the Fund which will be published later this year.

More information and the Investment Plan can be found HERE. The Marsden Fund Assessment Report can be found HERE.


MBIE appoints new Chief Scientist

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has appointed University of Auckland’s Deputy Dean of Engineering, Margaret Hyland, as its new Chief Scientist.

Paul Stocks, the ministry’s Deputy Chief Executive Labour, Science and Enterprise, said this would be a crucial leadership role as the National Statement of Science Investment was implemented and would contribute to the deepening relationships between the Ministry and the science community.

Margaret is Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Auckland. She holds a PhD from the University of Western Ontario in Canada and has spent her career specialising in aluminium technology, and the chemistry and engineering of material surfaces.

She is a Fellow of the Institute of Chemical Engineering and, in addition to her numerous teaching awards, she was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Pickering Medal for excellence in technology by the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2015.

Margaret previously was the Director of the Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge.

“As Chief Scientist, Margaret will provide science leadership, and work with teams providing advice on science systems, policy and investment. She will be tasked with building on the existing strategic direction of the science system, with a particular eye on the capability of the sector and opportunities going forward. She will also play a crucial role in ensuring that the sector’s expertise and intelligence are captured and communicated during the development of policy and investment plans,” Paul says.

Margaret will be seconded to the ministry for 80% of her time for the next two years, starting  from February 1.

Loss of AgResearch jobs “will have huge ripple effect through the farming sector”

Dr Jill Stanley, Vice President of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science, warns that the proposed loss of up to 33 scientists and 50 technical positions at AgResearch, will have a huge ripple effect throughout the New Zealand farming sector.

The primary industries account for over 50% of New Zealand’s export earnings, she points out, and agriculture is a big contributor to this. The rundown of research capability will impede New Zealand’s efforts to stay competitive in the international market.

The 2015 OECD report places New Zealand 27th out 34 OECD countries in terms of total spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP.

New Zealand’s poor performance is acknowledged in the National Statement of Science Investment, released this week.

In this statement, the Government outlines plans to increase both public and private sector investment to reach the OECD average by the 2020s.

This sounds admirable, says Dr Stanley, but she recalls Simon Upton as Minister of Science expressing the same desire during the science reforms of the 1990s and failing to bring about the necessary step-change in science funding.

The Government is also reviewing CRI core funding, which has not been inflation-adjusted since its inception.

“But will this be a case of too little, too late?

“Obviously, the affected staff will be feeling undervalued and vulnerable,” says Dr Stanley.

She says it is likely only a few of those who lose their jobs will find other jobs in agriculture within New Zealand. Many of the others will likely be lost to our competitors overseas, while some will find jobs outside the sector.

These redundancies will further discourage bright young New Zealanders from entering a career in the primary sector, at a time when we desperately need an increase in our skill base.

The heart of the problem appears to be lack of funding to retain this capability, says Dr Stanley. AgResearch has predicted a gap in revenue of more than $5 million this financial year. They have identified new areas that need 27 new staff, resulting in a net reduction of 56 positions.

Dr Stanley agrees that AgResearch should be responding to industry needs. But she says New Zealand needs a science system that is adequately buffered to allow for capability retention when shorter-term industry priorities change.

* The speech by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce when launching the National Statement of Science Investment can be found here. 

Govt seeks feedback on $1.5b science spend: researchers are urged to have their say

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has released the Government’s first draft National Statement of Science Investment (NSSI), which sets out the current settings and proposed future priorities for Government’s science investment, for public feedback.

In a media statement, Joyce said the Government’s science investment would be almost $1.5 billion in 2015/16, a figure which has grown by more than 70 per cent across government since 2007/08.

To capitalise on opportunities to increase the value and effectiveness of this investment, the draft NSSI proposes a series of key priorities for action over the next five to 10 years, he said.

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Budget includes extra spending for science and provides for new centres of research excellence

Finance Minister Bill English’s sixth Budget increases the Government’s investment in tertiary education, research and innovation, which he said were crucial for sustained economic growth.

This investment includes $83 million of operating funding over four years to raise tuition subsidies in science, agriculture and health sciences.

The Budget also provides an additional $53 million over four years to establish another three Centres of Research Excellence, bringing the total number to 10. This includes a Centre focusing on Māori research.

And it provides an additional $57 million over four years for contestable research in science and innovation.

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