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National Science Challenges Must Break New Ground

For Immediate Release: NZ Association of Scientists

National Science Challenges Must Break New Ground

“The profile of science in New Zealand has been raised by the announcement of 10 National Science Challenges by Minister of Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce, and the commitment to invest $133.5m of new money in these challenges over the next four years” says NZ Association of Scientists President Shaun Hendy. Drawing on input from scientists and the wider community, an advisory panel recommended 12 National Science Challenges to Cabinet. Of these nine were ratified, two were combined to form a single challenge and one was put on hold. A further challenge, “Science and Society”, was deemed not to meet the criteria for a science-led challenge, but was nonetheless important enough to bring to the attention of Cabinet.

The NZAS is pleased that a good deal of the approved challenges concern human health and the environment, including sustainable marine, land and water use. This represents a shift in priorities for science investment that recognises that healthy people in healthy environments are central to a sustainably growing economy. While some sectors of science may be poorly accommodated in the line-up of challenges, the NZAS acknowledges that the Challenges are not intended to be a complete list of New Zealand’s science priorities. The NZAS is particularly heartened by the panel’s recommendations concerning “Science and Society” and hopes that there is rapid response by government to this important challenge.

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Just how each of these challenges is rolled out in the coming years will be critical in ensuring the investments generate value to New Zealand. In the jostling that is already underway it will be important to ensure that institutional and sectorial interests play second fiddle to the national interest. Existing organizations including the CRIs, Centres of Research Excellence and others including independent science organisations will all have a role to play and good leadership skills will be needed to ensure successful rollout of each initiative. It is important therefore that the next stage of the process be undertaken as transparently as possible to ensure that the Challenges can draw on the widest possible array of relevant scientific expertise.

The NZAS notes that there were no early career researchers on the Peak Panel, so it is important that they are made central to the next steps, given the difficulties they face in the current funding environment. It would not be out of step with similar overseas initiatives if there was a requirement for the involvement of early to mid-career researchers in each of the challenges.

The New Zealand Association of Scientists ( is a nationwide association of practising research scientists spanning the universities, technical institutes, Crown Research Institutes, government departments, industry, museums, other science institutions, and independent researchers.


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