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Full of potential, poorly harnessed: MBIE on NZ science

By Paul McBeth

Sept. 26 (BusinessDesk) - The inability of New Zealand's research, science and innovation sector to coordinate its efforts at home and abroad is the biggest challenge to lifting its performance, government officials say.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is seeking feedback on the government's draft research, science and innovation strategy. The "ambitious" agenda covers transitioning to a zero-carbon economy, supporting regional economic growth, protecting the environment, and creating high-value jobs.

It sets out an eight-year target to lift national research and development spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product from almost 1.4 percent at present. To achieve that, businesses will need to spend $4 billion a year on R&D, almost twice the $2.15 billion spent in 2018. Also, the government will have to lift its own spending to almost $3 billion from $1.6 billion currently. That excludes the cost of the new R&D tax incentive regime.

The document singles out weak connectivity as the key challenge facing the sector. That includes a siloed local research community, limited links between researchers and users of that research, and an insular focus on New Zealand - rather than international peers - as the frame of reference for researchers, innovators and institutions.

"Improving the fluidity of connections between researchers, public services, businesses and users of research will greatly improve the excellence and impact of our endeavours, leading to higher quality research, more innovative and dynamic businesses, and improved and effective public services," the report said.

"In particular, ensuring our research institutions face as few barriers as possible to sharing resources and infrastructure, both between each other and with other parts of our innovation system, will help them form a coordinated, dynamic network of research activity and support."

While New Zealand produces a lot of research, it's struggled to convert that into new products or services. New Zealand universities and public research centres file fewer patents than their OECD peers and other small advanced economies, typically indicating low rates of innovation.

The draft strategy proposes adding connections to the existing principles of excellence and impact to help guide future investment and policy decisions.

MBIE will have to re-examine some rules about how its system functions, the report says, including policies on open access to data and research and the incentives for researchers and innovators to connect and share freely.

The strategy plans to extend the government's technology incubator scheme to attract talent and help commercialise deep technology. It proposes a new policy approach to ownership, use, and licensing of intellectual property by research organisations to get the most social value out of public research.

It would also pursue deeper integration with neighbouring research and science systems, especially in Australia and Singapore.

The strategy would involve concentrating research and innovation to build scale and depth in particular areas. Aerospace, renewable energy and health technologies are identified as potential areas of focus.

Submissions close on Nov. 10.

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