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The Opportunities Party Launches Innovation Policy

WELLINGTON, July 24 2020 – New Zealand’s tertiary education and research sectors would undergo a major overhaul under The Opportunities Party (TOP) so that teaching and research would better support businesses and lead to job creation in emerging, tech-driven sectors.

TOP’s Innovation Policy, announced at the party’s campaign launch at Meow in central Wellington, would seek to increase private business investment in research and development (R&D) so that the country’s R&D output hits two percent of GDP. In 2019, New Zealand’s R&D output was 1.37 percent of GDP.

The party would also set up a government-backed Innovation Fund worth $500m so that everyday Kiwis could invest in fast growth, high value companies and TOP would fund polytechnics and universities to help businesses solve problems, with a grant of up to $5000 for each eligible enquiry.

TOP party leader and former Treasury economist, Geoff Simmons, says that effective and meaningful innovation is critical to both the long-term success of New Zealand and futureproofing the economy.

“New Zealand is not short of brilliant, innovative people with great ideas, but we lack the systems needed to enable Kiwis to get these ideas off the ground,” says Simmons. “Our innovation policy clearly outlines the ways in which the Government can best support entrepreneurs to create and commercialise high-value products and services in Aotearoa, for use here and across the globe.”

TOP propose that reform is needed to improve national capabilities in R&D, infrastructure, and skills development, to ensure that New Zealand is world class in these areas.

“As just one example, in a ranking of 54 countries by leading academic journal, American Scientific Worldview, New Zealand’s biotechnology research output is ranked fourth globally, ahead of Australia. Despite this New Zealand is not a powerhouse in the development of lucrative healthcare drugs and treatments because our infrastructure does not support this commercialisation. Instead world-class ideas are taken offshore to be commercialised, or worse, they flounder in an academic journal read by very few people. It’s a wasted opportunity which we can fix with good policy and an overhaul of our tertiary sector.”

In 2017, the Government invested over $800m into knowledge generation through major science funds, but only invested $87.3m into commercialising this knowledge. New Zealand ranks highly on international innovation indexes for innovative idea generation, but ranks poorly for commercialising research, and R&D investment in relation to the nation’s GDP. TOP see this as a dramatic need to invest in commercialising the excellent research coming out of NZ’s tertiary sector.

“We need to stop incentivising universities to do low-value research just to boost their international ranking,” says Simmons. “Instead, we’ll set national priorities for research funding by considering New Zealand’s economic, social, and environmental needs, striking the right balance between discovery and applied research. We would measure the success of research funding on how the results were applied by industry, rewarding performance, not promise.”

TOP’s innovation policy also addresses New Zealand’s dire need to move away from a purely primary-industry based economy, to a multi-faceted, business and technology-based one.

“Though New Zealand has historically been reliant on the strength of our primary industries, we’ve seen unprecedented growth in our technology industry in recent years.” says Simmons. “Kiwi companies such as Xero, Pushpay, and local giant Datacom are examples of incredible tech success in New Zealand. There’s no reason why we can’t incentivise this kind of commercial tenacity through world-class industry training and ensuring businesses have the support needed to develop national and international partnerships.”

The policy also acknowledges that a major budget drain is in the administrative costs of the current innovation model. Simmons says that there’s a huge amount of money being wasted on administration, and major reform would see much of this reinvested back into actual research.

“Too much of our innovation budget is wasted on running devolved funds. We can save 20% of the current Vote by bringing the devolved funds back into central management,” says Simmons. “Just doing that will give us many millions more to put into urgently-needed technology research to take New Zealand forward. The less you spend on fund management, the more you can spend on actual research.”

Simmons says at the end of the day, technology-based economies are the future and New Zealand needs to be doing more to ensure it’s not only keeping up but leading the pack.

“We’ve grown an economy that has not always been the most mindful of our environment and our responsibilities as kaitiaki of this environment,” says Simmons. “Driving technology-based solutions for our future can mean that we are able to support our primary industries to better uphold their environmental responsibilities through technological advances that simultaneously add value.”

“These primary industries will always be a huge part of our economy, but they can’t be the cornerstone of our economy forever,” says Simmons. “We must enable Kiwis to innovate effectively, or we risk being left behind on the global stage. TOP’s innovation policy cuts through the mix and offers real, meaningful change for New Zealand’s future.”

Key components of TOP’s innovation policy include:

  • Stop incentivising universities to do low-value research,
  • Increase business investment in research & development (R&D) up to the goal of 2% of our GDP.
  • Set up a government backed Innovation Fund that everyday Kiwis like you and me can invest in, to help power the economy forward.
  • Fund polytechs and universities to deliver fast responses to solve company problems – up to $5000 per business issue.
  • Ensure NZ has the skills to innovate by investing in polytechs and universities, and fine-tuning migration.
  • Incentivise universities to respond to the needs of business and innovate in what and how they teach. Create more short courses and useful internships that have been co-designed with businesses seeking those skills.
  • Set national priorities for research funding by taking into account New Zealand’s economic, social, and environmental needs, striking the right balance between discovery and applied research.
  • Measure the success of research funding on how the results were taken up and applied by industry – rewarding performance, not promise.
  • Help businesses to invest in training, up-skilling and developing their staff, especially in technology and digital development.
  • We will put student loans on tertiary providers’ balance sheets to encourage universities to equip students to secure valuable jobs as they remain accountable for the student loan paybacks. This would encourage a shift away from the ‘bums on seats’ model that many tertiary providers are currently rewarded by following.
  • The Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) is no longer fit for purpose. It rewards academics for publishing in academic journals instead of doing research that our businesses and government agencies can use.

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