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Mallard: Research in New Zealand Universities

1 September 2005 Speech Notes

Research in New Zealand Universities and the PBRF

Speech to Research Managers Conference, Canterbury University

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

Critical and independent enquiry that pushes the boundaries of knowledge and understanding is vital to our nation’s future.

I want to talk this morning about initiatives this government has taken to identify and nurture research effort in the tertiary sector.

Back in 2000, the government started by looking at the big picture: envisioning New Zealand’s place in the world, today and in the future.

We set an overall direction through the Growth and Innovation Framework and worked with tertiary educators and stakeholders to develop the Tertiary Education Strategy, or TES.

The prime importance of research is clearly signalled in the TES, with one strategy entirely devoted to strengthening research, knowledge creation and its uptake.

The latest Statement of Tertiary Education Priorities reinforces these goals by ensuring government’s investment goes to high quality research.

I want to talk in detail about two initiatives established to encourage the development of this sort of research: the Centres of Research Excellence and the Performance-Based Research Fund.

Centres of Research Excellence, or CoREs, encourage researchers to concentrate their resources around excellence, and also to think wider than their own institutions.

Seven CoREs are currently being funded, with a total of about $22 million in operational funding each year.

The centres have contributed to the training of New Zealand’s future researchers and innovators, attracted people to New Zealand, and they have improved knowledge output and transfer from tertiary education organisations.

To take just one example, the National Research Centre for Growth and Development is finding answers to the big questions about growth and health, both before and after birth.

It‘s an excellent example of collaboration across disciplines and across a range of institutions, with researchers in animal and human health working together to find the keys to healthy development.

The magic of how a single cell grows and develops into a complete organism involves some of the most complex biology. We are fortunate in having several clusters of internationally recognised scientists working in this area.

The Centre is hosted by the University of Auckland at the Liggins Institute and pools the skills and research expertise of Massey University, the University of Otago and AgResearch Limited.

I believe it is also the first formal research organisation to include both our medical schools.

CoREs are meeting their objectives and achieving expected outcomes. Each centre is tracking well to fulfil its targets.

I’m pleased to announce today that the Board of the Tertiary Education Commission has approved funding for each Centre of Research Excellence for the remainder of the funding term, right through to 2008/09.

I am also very pleased to announce that the government has agreed to a three-year phase-down from that time for any Centres of Research Excellence that are not approved for ongoing funding. This provides a great deal more certainty for CoREs and allows you to plan ahead with more confidence, especially when taking on new PhD students.

The Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) is also designed to encourage and reward excellent research in the tertiary education sector.

The results of the 2003 Quality Evaluation confirm this is being achieved.
Almost 30 per cent of PBRF-eligible staff achieved A or B research ratings.

High numbers of A-rated researchers were concentrated in five areas: philosophy, maths, ecology, biomedical, and psychology.

Thirteen subject areas had 50 or more academics rated B – these are areas in which New Zealand has achieved a critical mass of high-quality researchers.

These include clinical medicine, engineering and technology, law, and psychology.

For the first time, we have the information to make meaningful and accurate comparisons between the research performance of different TEOs (and types of TEOs) and between research quality in different subject areas.

Through the PBRF, tertiary education organisations are paid for the quality of their research, rather than the volume of students they can attract.

It is a good example of the government’s determination to move the emphasis to quality rather than quantity throughout the tertiary education system.

Before the PBRF, there was no direct financial incentive from government for tertiary education organisations to employ high performing staff.

Now there are significant financial gains available from having top researchers on staff. The PBRF was very deliberately designed so that funding would attach primarily to these talented people.

On the subject of funding, I am happy to announce today the results of work on the likely size of the PBRF pool undertaken by the TEC and the Ministry of Education.

These new projections are expressed in calendar years for the first time. They incorporate the financial-year funding increases we announced in the Budget, analysis of demographic trends, and TEOs’ own estimates of their future enrolments.

I’m pleased to announce that there will be significant increases in PBRF funding in 2006 and succeeding years.

As we continue to move from degree top-up funding to the full PBRF, the PBRF pool will grow to over $112 million (excluding GST) in 2006, with a similar sum available for research through the student component.

In 2007, the first full year of PBRF funding, this will increase to over $188 million.

In 2008, it will exceed $200 million.

Cumulatively, over the years 2005 to 2008, that’s over $160 million more for research, thanks to the introduction of the PBRF.

I'm also very pleased to announce today that in our Tertiary Education Manifesto for the coming election, the Labour Party has committed to increasing the total value of the PBRF to $250 million per year by 2010.

The PBRF is much more than just a funding mechanism. It is also providing information that will grow in value as we build up a complete picture of TEOs’ research effort.

The three measures that make up the PBRF have all been carefully designed to assess aspects of research performance and allocate government funding on that basis.

The Quality Evaluation is crucial, deciding 60 per cent of PBRF funding.
The first of these evaluations, in 2003, established a mechanism for individual staff’s research outputs and activities to be reviewed by their peers.

It rewards TEOs that create environments that encourage researchers, and gives direct feedback to staff on their strengths and opportunities for development.
The second of the PBRF components, Research Degree Completions, creates new incentives to develop and ensure post-graduate students’ success - over half of the funding attracted by the student is dependent on the successful completion of their studies.

As the five-year completion rates for doctoral and masters students that started in 1998 are 24 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively, the potential loss of income for TEOs that don’t heed these signals is considerable.
The Research Degree Completions component is projected to be worth almost $50 million by 2008 and based on their performance to date, universities can expect to receive almost all of that.

The third PBRF component, the External Research Income measure encourages improved connection with industry and other end-users of research. It is projected to be worth over $30 million by 2008 and universities can also expect to receive almost all of it.

Clearly, the stakes are high, and getting higher.

The net impact of the PBRF on research funding for all eight universities, compared with the old funding system, is an increase of $12.7 million for 2005.
That begs the question: what sort of changes does the government expect to see in tertiary education organisations to take advantage of these new funding opportunities?

I expect tertiary education providers to both build on the strengths identified, and to take decisions about areas requiring improvement.
They may well decide to concentrate on areas of research excellence identified through the PBRF and the government’s signals.

In return, I expect the government will continue to identify areas requiring strategic investment if the opportunities identified fall short of the research performance.

To conclude, I think it’s great that so many of the initiatives to boost research capability that were begun in the late 1990s and early 2000s are producing results. I look forward to seeing them develop further.

As I am participating in a Quality Evaluation of my own on 17 September, I hope my own Contribution to the Research Environment will be seen as having been as positive as yours.

I hope you have a productive and enjoyable two days and that your participation helps you all towards our ultimate aim: boosting New Zealand’s capability to produce world-class research.

Thank you for your time and attention, and I am now pleased to declare this conference open.


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