Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce is happy with the close association the country”s seven Crown Research Institute have with their specific industries, even as their funding comes under review in the National Statement on Science Investment.
Joyce launched the national policy on how the government plans to invest in science, research and development this week, unveiling a raft of plans including a review of the CRI funding model that was introduced in July 2011. The CRIs will continue to conduct some “blue skies” research – which is typically pure science without a commercial aim – though it has to be in areas their industry partners want and used to inform more applied, or commercial, work.
The CRIs are “very strongly associated with their industries” and “as long as they’re continuing to do that, then there’s a very strong role for them in the New Zealand science sector,” Joyce told reporters after the policy launch on Monday. “But if the sector turns around and says, well the research this organisation is doing is of no great relevance to us and we’re not very excited about it, then you’d have to ask some questions. Fortunately nobody’s currently saying that.”
The entities – AgResearch, the Institute of Environmental Science Research, the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Science, Landcare Research, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Plant and Food Research, and Scion – receive about $200 million a year in core funding, which replaced a regime where funds were largely contestable. That contract expires in June next year.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment review will “determine whether changes should be made to improve casino its effectiveness,” looking at how the regime fits into the wider science investment plan, the report said. MBIE”s innovation chapter of the Business Growth Agenda, published a day later, says the review will assess the programme”s impact across various domains” and expects to report back to Joyce next month.
“The CRI core funding review is about how effective is that being done?” Joyce said at the national science policy release. “We effectively write a cheque out once a year to each of the CRIs, say do your best and tell us what you spent your money on. So we’re having a look at that at the moment.”
In separate submissions on the draft science statement, several CRIs said the real value of the funding had been eroded by inflation.
The introduction of the core funding included a monitoring regime, where the CRIs would face four-year rolling reviews to gauge their ability and potential to meet outcomes set in their statements of core purpose. Four agencies have been reviewed, and the first report in July 2013 on Plant and Food said the panel had “broader concerns about the general operating environment for all the CRIs and in particular the degree of monitoring and the lack of financial and other disciplines for an organisation that repeatedly fails to meet its financial targets.”
The 2013 review of Plant and Food found “many positive features” and endorsed the board”s strategy, but said the agency “repeatedly under-delivered on its medium-term financial targets, with forecasts of increasing revenue and increasing return on equity failing to materialise in successive Statements of Corporate Intent.”
Reports last year on ESR and Landcare Research found both CRIs weren”t meeting their potential, with Landcare”s performance “adequate” and ESR facing many challenges with fragile client relationships, a deteriorating financial performance and high staff turnover.
GNS, which was reviewed in 2013, was found to be “performing very well” with a key challenge its ability to successfully commercialise ideas and products.