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Government Matches Otago's $25M Research Programme

Government Matches Otago’s $25 M Research Programme

Funds make possible new research into entrepreneurship, diabetes, care of dying

Government matching funds invested in the University of Otago’s strategic academic research programme will support world-class scholarship in areas vital to the nation’s future well-being, says the University’s Vice-Chancellor.

“The rising diabetes epidemic that affects so many New Zealanders is just one of the critical areas of research Otago can now push forward on, thanks to the foresight of the Government which has agreed today to match private funds the University itself raises for this and other research,” says Dr Graeme Fogelberg.

He went on to praise Government leaders, and in particular, Associate Minister for Education (Tertiary), the Hon Steve Maharey, who was instrumental in securing Cabinet approval for Otago’s innovative Leading Thinkers advancement programme under the Partnership for Excellence framework.

“The Government’s decision to invest in the University’s research aspirations is a vote of confidence in the outstanding abilities of Otago researchers, a testament to the University’s well-earned international reputation for research excellence, and reflects a strong belief in its future as a world-leading institution of higher learning,” Dr Fogelberg says.

Matching funding programmes, in which governments match dollar-for-dollar the amount universities generate in private fundraising, have proven to be extremely successful partnerships in other nations, particularly in Canada, he noted. In that country, universities and governments recognised such investment was vital in order to attract and retain the world’s best minds.

“Without a doubt, these partnerships are a highly strategic, targeted and an efficient use of public funding, maximising the impact of private donor commitments to University academic goals, and, by extension, the social and economic objectives of the nation.”

“This initiative isn’t about bricks and mortar,” he continued. “This isn’t about building yet another building. This is about investing in people, in the intellectual and human capital that is absolutely essential to the advancement of our society as a whole.”

As a direct result of the Government commitment, the Edgar National Diabetes Centre for Research and Education – an Otago-led initiative launched earlier this year with support from the Eion and Jan Edgar Charitable Trust –will receive immediate matching funds, as will the South Link Health Chair in Palliative Care, the first-ever position in New Zealand to focus on the care of the dying.

Five other University projects have already secured private support: the Community Trust Otago National Centre for Trace Element Analysis, the Dunedin City Council Chair in Entrepreneurship, the McKenzie Medical and Surgical Repatriation Fellowship, the Cas van der Veer Chair in Movement Disorders at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and the Ron Lister Chair in Geography. Each will also receive funding as a result of the Government’s approval of the University’s Leading Thinkers advancement programme.

Dr Fogelberg described the trace elements centre as “a kind of CSI of academia”, using the latest technology to trace the unique identifiers found in all environmental, geological and biological materials.
“The implications are enormous,” he says. “From tracking the origins of fish stocks to environmental monitoring to criminal forensics. This is really exciting stuff.”

In a bold attempt to reverse the ‘Brain Drain’, the repatriation fellowship will offer New Zealand’s “best and brightest” medical minds the chance to return from overseas to well-supported academic research and teaching positions at Otago, giving them the time so essential to establishing dedicated research programmes.

In all, about 25 research areas with strategic importance for both the University and the nation, and for which the University is currently seeking private support, will benefit from the Government’s matching funding.

These projects cover a range of research challenges, such as finding “smarter” drugs individualised to patient needs, ensuring antibiotics work, helping the disabled participate fully in society, ensuring a more sustainable economic future, and creating design technology that actually makes products better – not more complicated. The funding could also help establish New Zealand’s first designated academic chair in Neuroscience.

“The University of Otago is entering the most exciting phase in its distinguished history,” Dr Fogelberg says. “Otago is already renowned here in New Zealand and around the world for its academic leadership, particularly in the medical and health sciences. But with these matching public funds, Otago will be able to attract and retain even more of the very finest academic minds. These are the people who ask the questions that no one has asked before, who take the risks that all true innovation demands, and who help find solutions to our society’s most pressing dilemmas.”

In addition, the University’s Leading Thinkers programme protects the freedom to pursue lines of intellectual enquiry, Dr Fogelberg says. “Rigorous policies and procedures are already set in place and strictly adhered to by the University, and explicit guidelines for donations prevent donors from influencing curriculum or the focus of research.

“Academic freedom is at the core of our mission as a University. Such a fundamental value must – and will – be protected at all costs.”

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