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Opening of National Research for Growth and Dev.

Friday 30 July 2004
Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address at
Opening of National Research for Growth and Development

Park Avenue, Grafton
Auckland

1.30 pm

Friday 30 July 2004

Thank you for the invitation to open formally the National Research Centre for Growth and Development. It is a pleasure to do so because this Centre represents so much of what we in New Zealand are trying to achieve with research, and, more specifically, with university research, in New Zealand.

This Centre of Research Excellence, one of only seven in New Zealand, and one of four at this university has brought together some of the best minds in the country in their respective fields, from some of the best research institutions, to tackle issues of both national and international importance. Research in the Centre will have an impact on issues ranging from perinatal brain damage, to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the origins of heart disease and diabetes, and increased agricultural production.

The Centre is founded on biotechnology, one of three leading edge sectors in the economy which were identified in the government’s Growth and Innovation Framework as deserving of special attention. We chose biotech because of the way the basic science can be applied across so many areas of the economy. One of New Zealand’s key strengths in the future will surely be our ability to apply our longstanding expertise in the sciences and research from which biotechnology stems in an innovative way. This Centre is evidence of that: it doesn’t see boundaries between agri-biotech and medical biotech: it sees opportunities for synergies. It doesn’t see differences between disciplines: it sees complementarity.

The government is working hard to strengthen the foundations of biotechnology in New Zealand and of research across the board. This Centre is exciting because it shows that some of the investments we have been making are bearing fruit.

Our government is committed to effecting a transformation of New Zealand’s economy and society into one that is prosperous, sustainable, socially inclusive, knowledge-based, and innovative. As a consequence, research, science, and technology are exerting increasing influence, assuming greater importance and receiving growing attention – both within and outside of government. This year’s Budget resulted in the largest ever single increase to Vote Research, Science and Technology: $212 million over four years. It now sits at well over $600 million per annum – a 45 per cent increase since we were elected. Many of the researchers involved in the NRCGD benefit from that funding, especially that distributed by the Health Research Council.

The significance of universities as research institutions is also increasing. The tertiary sector now accounts for a large proportion of the R&D undertaken in New Zealand, and new initiatives like the PBRF, the Centres for Research Excellence, and the Growth and Innovation Pilots will only make that more so. And let’s remember that the university has a vitally important role in training the next generation of Peter Gluckmans and Jane Hardings.

It’s easy to forget that research wasn’t always a top priority for New Zealand’s universities. John Gould, one time member and chronicler of the University Grants Committee, reports that a chairman of one of the college councils once said “if a professor has time for research, it shows that he is not doing his job properly”.

A lot has changed since then. For many years now research has been seen as a key mission of New Zealand universities, but now the focus is on it as never before.

Our government recognises that universities, along with Crown Research Institutes, are the leaders of basic and strategic research in New Zealand. They are key players in the generation, transfer and commercialisation of knowledge. The calibre of people who research and teach in New Zealand’s universities is very high. The list of those involved in this Centre is a scientific and research who’s who. That’s why the Centre, and Auckland University in general, can and will play a key role in the transformation of New Zealand.

Our minister responsible for tertiary education, Steve Maharey, has said “that it is essential that we now reposition universities as the institutions to influence the direction and quality of our research and ensure that they become the elite institutions they were intended to be”. I couldn’t agree more, and I know that we are on track.

The Tertiary Education Strategy plays a key role in our vision. It promotes the building of research capabilities and the strengthening of the quality of research, as well as more effective linkages with business and other external stakeholders. It promotes a greater alignment between research goals, and New Zealand’s national goals. That alignment can be seen clearly in the work of the NRCGD.

Complementing the Tertiary Education Strategy are many other initiatives directed towards supporting excellent and relevant research. Centres of Research Excellence are one such initiative, and the NRCGD is the worthy recipient of some of the $123 million that our government allocated for the CoREs.

The role of the CoRE is to support leading edge, world-class, innovative research, which fosters excellence and contributes both to New Zealand’s national goals and to knowledge transfer. CoREs will provide stability and ongoing support to some of the country’s top university research teams, and to their colleagues in CRIs and elsewhere. They are primarily, but not exclusively, inter-institutional research networks, with the researchers working together on a commonly agreed work programme. This strong focus on collaborative links between research organisations will help avoid the duplication of effort that might otherwise occur. All this seems to describe the NRCGD to a T.

I am pleased to see first hand that the CoRE funding has made such a notable difference to the NRCGD team, through the purchasing of valuable equipment and the bringing together of like minds spread throughout the country. I am especially pleased that AgResearch is part of the team. In a small country with limited resources like New Zealand, we need the different types of research providers, especially the universities and CRIs, to work closely together. The NRCGD is well ahead of that trend.

Conclusion

In conclusion, our government fully appreciates the role of the scientific and research community in taking New Zealand ahead. That is why I’m pleased to be at the official opening of this Centre of Research Excellence, and pleased that the government has been able to support the wonderful work being undertaken here.

Congratulations to Peter Gluckman and the team. I understand there are around 120 of you, after your first year in existence. I look forward to hearing more about the excellent research which I know will come out of this Centre in the future.

Thank you.

ENDS

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