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A Strategic Approach to Funding Research

Hon Steve Maharey

24 September 2002 Speech Notes

A Strategic Approach to Funding Research

Address at the Performance-Based Research Fund Stakeholder Workshop. Te Papa, Wellington.

I’m pleased to be here today and have the opportunity to address such a cross-section of people with an interest in tertiary sector research.

Enhancing the Innovation System

In the coming term, the government will be building on the foundations laid in the last three years. The recent tertiary education reforms are among a range of linked strategies to enhance the innovation system to help lift our nation’s economic performance. Our aim is to hitch the tertiary education sector to the engine of the real economy, and the needs of the community, so that it is contributing to wider national goals.

The Growing an Innovative New Zealand Framework identified a well-educated, skilled and adaptable workforce as an essential ingredient in producing a successful 21st century economy. We are building up a homegrown model of development, which sees the government as a partner, facilitator, and broker, working with other sectors to get results.

It is time to fashion a connected tertiary education system plugged into national goals - a system that meets the needs of a range of stakeholders and that can focus the creative and collaborative energies of those within it. We have therefore built - and are now implementing - concrete strategies to ensure the sector is ready for this fresh role in helping build a confident, prosperous nation. We have set a cracking pace in our work to make the sector more outwardly focussed and better able to meet the changing needs of these times.

Four key elements are together helping us undertake this crucial task. They are:

- the overarching role of the Tertiary Education Commission;

- the use of charters and profiles for all publicly funded tertiary education organisations;

- a Tertiary Education Strategy incorporating the views of key stakeholders; and

- a new funding system that rewards performance and reflects strategic priorities.

The Role of the Performance-Based Research Fund

We want our tertiary system to be driven by, and rewarded for, a focus on excellence, relevance and access. The Performance-Based Research Fund - the reason why we are here today - is anchored very much in the “Excellence’ section of the trinity. As the PBRF Working Group, the Science and Innovation Advisory Council and the Talent Initiative have all noted, if we are to achieve our goal of becoming a world-leading knowledge society, we need to nurture, retain, reward and attract world-class talent.

Although many people are working within the system at the cutting edge of their fields, the current funding and regulatory approaches do not adequately reveal, celebrate or reward them. We are determined to fix this problem, and the PBRF is an important part of the solution.

Proposals for some form of performance-based funding of research are not new. The most detailed case for a PBRF was put by the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission in its fourth report, Shaping the Funding Framework. As TEAC argued, some form of performance-based funding is appropriate.

This is because of the positive relationship that we know exists between the use of explicit incentives for performance and the focus of academic researchers. We also know that an increase in individual focus and effort enhances aggregate research productivity; and a greater concentration of research funding enhances the quality and/or quantity of research outputs.

Feedback on TEAC’s fourth report revealed strong support within the community and sector for a Performance-Based Research Fund. The government also agreed with many of TEAC’s recommendations in this area, and went on to place the establishment of a PBRF at the centre of our manifesto commitments.

The Development of the Fund

In introducing such a fund, we are keen to ensure that the model selected provides benefits to New Zealand, without negatively impacting on other parts of tertiary education. For example, we want to increase the average quality of research and improve the quality of information on research output, while ensuring that research continues to support degree and postgraduate teaching.

That’s why we convened the PBRF Working Group, to work through the issues and find the best approach to performance-based funding. I’d like to thank the group for their hard work, and their commitment to the task. I’d also like to thank all those institutions and sector groups who have met with officials and working group members in the last few months. Your willingness to share information about experiences in performance evaluation has been invaluable in shaping the working group’s thinking.

Today is the opportunity for you to add further views and ideas on PBRF design, in particular your reactions to the working group’s draft proposals.

Six Key Elements for Success

In my view, any successful PBRF will need to contain the following six key elements. I urge you to keep these at the forefront of your mind as you make your deliberations in the days and months ahead.

First, the fund needs to recognise research excellence, wherever it exists in the system. Here, I don’t just mean refereed journal articles or books (although they will continue to be important). We also want to ensure that the quality evaluation process can identify excellent research when it occurs in the form of creative and performing arts, or in such fields as design, industry application, and professional practice.

Secondly, the PBRF needs to support and promote the uptake of solid and practical incentives for providers to develop and maintain their own capability. Better information about and rewards for relative quality can help institutions target their investment, which can include staff development policies, creating career paths for young researchers and postgraduate students, and improving the quality of research training.

Thirdly, students, industry, and the community all need useful, clear and reliable information about exactly where excellence lies.

Fourthly, the system needs to continue to maintain the interrelationship between research and teaching that results in a high-quality education for learners.

Fifthly, new and emerging researchers need to be appropriately supported.

Finally, the transition from the current EFTS funding system to the PBRF must be managed in a way that protects the existing sector strengths in research, and allows providers to adjust to the new environment.


These are weighty and complex issues. I know that the working group has devoted much time and effort to them, and has developed a series of draft recommendations. The quality and effectiveness of the final PBRF will depend on properly teasing out all the implications of policy options and maintaining a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve.

The working group has summed this up well. The PBRF should promote the development of lively and productive research cultures, which produce high-quality research, are attractive and effective learning environments for students, and are inclusive of the community.

All of those here today bring the knowledge, experience and expertise needed to help finish the job. I urge you to participate fully, and I look forward to hearing your responses and suggestions.


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