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Budget 2011: The science sector responds

Budget 2011: The science sector responds



19 May 2011

Bill English unveiled the Budget for 2011-12 this afternoon and signalled a small reduction in science funding overall, with decreases in funding of genomics research and science infrastructure largely offset by funding being shifted into other areas.

Overall, core science and innovation funding will drop $10 million to $773.7 million in the next financial year.

Reprioritized funding has focused on two new areas:

- $24 million over four years for business R&D and commercialisation.
- $12 million over four years for earthquake research to help rebuild Christchurch. An additional $2 million has already been committed from the 2010/11 financial year as an immediate response to the earthquake.

Data visualisation specialist Keith Ng has created an infographic comparing Budget category spending year on year including in science and innovation. It is available here.

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan delivered a speech in Wellington this morning just prior to the Budget and looked at the role science and innovation can play in boosting New Zealand's prosperity. The audio of that presentation is available here.

The SMC is gathering reaction to the Budget from key figures in the science sector. Further comments will be issued in an update later this afternoon.

Professor Shaun Hendy, Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, comments:

"Although relative to other areas of budget expenditure, Vote RS&T has not been cut severely, it is important to realise that New Zealand has grossly under-invested in research spending for decades. In the 1990s,

"Finland responded to a much larger economic crisis than that New Zealand currently faces by investing heavily in science and technology. This investment saw them climb back to the top of the OECD ladder in just a decade.

"These days developed countries need to invest heavily in science and technology just to stand still, so if New Zealand is to halt its plummet through the OECD rankings it needs more than just static
government investment in this sector. It is also disappointing to see a cut in research infrastucture spending - the sector has identified investment in infrastructure as a priority for getting best value for
our current R&D dollar. Cuts to R&D infrastructure spending will have long term consequences for the international competitiveness and effectiveness of our RS&T sector."

Anthony Scott, Chief Executive of Science New Zealand comments:

"The Government is showing its faith in the new-look Crown Research Institutes by providing, for the first time, a guaranteed sum for each CRI. Collectively the 8 CRIs will get $215 million (excluding GST) as 'Core Funding'. This is almost a third of the total CRI revenue in the last financial year ($690M), although the percentage will vary from CRI to CRI.

"The money comes from amalgamating some contracts repeatedly won by the CRI over many years in particular science areas. Not all such contracts have been transferred, as enough has to remain for contest amongst all research providers.

"While not new money, it is a significant step which will maximise the value that New Zealand gets from its science investment. Having a reasonable sum of money enables a CRI to plan research programmes with confidence alongside its key stakeholders.

"It follows from the 2010 CRI Taskforce which clarified the purpose and role for each CRI. It recognised that while CRIs have an information advantage over central funders on both science and sector knowledge, they were being held back by cumbersome and time-consuming competitive processes. Smarter, faster decisions and closer, more flexible sector engagement was required.

"CRI Boards will be fully accountable for progress towards agreed purposes and outcomes.

"In addition, CRIs are working together and with other research organisations to actively identify areas where effectiveness and efficiency can be improved. This includes shared use of science research facilities, complementary and aligned research programmes and reducing back-office costs. The aim is to create the best science teams and outcomes for New Zealand.

"Budget 2011 delivers science research funding through Votes such as Health and Education as well as Science & Innovation. In difficult times, it is reassuring to see that investment is sustained in these key platforms for economic and environmental prosperity."

Dr Peter Dearden, Director of Genetics Otago, Laboratory for Evolution and Development,
National Research Centre for Growth and Development, University of Otago comments:

"The budget clearly comes at a difficult time, and at such a difficult time it was always hard to envision major increases in funding for science and innovation, even though personally I think it is important to invest to maintain and extend innovation.
"Overall the funding for science has not been too badly affected by this budget, but one item stands out for me. The loss of funding for genomics infrastructure is a blow to biological research in the
country as this funding would have allowed New Zealand to catch up with biological research in the rest of the world.

"Genomics is such a key part of modern biological research that this will have far reaching impacts on biological research in the country. Biology underlies so much of what we sell in overseas markets that I can't help but hope that this cut might be redressed in budgets in the near
future."

ends

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