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Building Critical Mass Around Key Academic Leaders

Media Release
3 November 2009


Building Critical Mass Around Key Academic Leaders

Universities strongly back findings in a report on the economic benefits of publicly-funded research produced by the Government’s Chief Science Advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman.

Their representative body – the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee – has welcomed Professor Gluckman’s acknowledgement that the most successful technology transfer from universities has come from groups with sufficient critical mass where there is a good mix of academic research and application, resulting in focused activity.

Professor Sir David Skegg, who chairs the NZVCC’s Research Committee, says the report suggests that greater weight should be given to building critical mass around key academic leaders. One way of achieving this would be to establish more Centres of Research Excellence (COREs) in universities which the report says “invariably attract proven entrepreneurial academic leaders”.

Stemming from a workshop held last month on improving the translation of publicly-funded research into economic benefit, Professor Gluckman’s report concludes that there may be value in reviewing current Foundation for Research, Science and Technology funding approaches to include more CoRE-like structures available to both universities and Crown Research Institutes (CRIs). Currently CoREs are funded by the Tertiary Education Commission.

The workshop was attended by 50 representatives from universities, CRIs, industry groups, technology transfer experts, research-intensive businesses and government agencies. It focused on increasing the contribution of public-sector research to national economic performance and identifying barriers to private sector uptake of research and development.

Professor Gluckman’s report says his call for more CoREs to be considered is not an argument for down-sizing investment in yet-to-be-applied, basic research or traditional academic research – rather an acknowledgement that “we have had chronic under-investment”.

Elsewhere, the report states that a low volume of basic research is undertaken in New Zealand, which might mean that the “ideas flow” is insufficient to sustain a “quality and vibrant innovation trajectory by the private sector”.

Professor Skegg says this finding supports moves by the current Government to boost the Marsden Fund dedicated to basic research. This year’s Budget substantially increased the fund which resulted in more university research projects receiving funding in the 2009 Marsden round.

“Considering the report’s content, there is every reason for the Marsden Fund to show strong growth on an annual basis.”

ENDS

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