Innovation Policy

Aligning The Right Skills, People and Priorities For Commercial Success

We believe NZ has more than just ‘Number 8 wire’ ingenuity but we struggle to turn knowledge into creating new products and services in the real world.  NZ generates a lot of new ideas, but it’s too hard for our Kiwi companies to access that knowledge.   We also don’t produce enough people with the right technical and digital skills so our innovative companies can succeed.

At TOP we are all innovators and entrepreneurs at heart and we have some great policy to fix this – without spending a cent more. We will:

  • Fund polytechs to deliver fast responses to solve company problems.
  • Ensure NZ has the skills to innovate by investing in polytechs, reining in the universities, and fine-tuning migration.
  • 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.
  • Tweak migration to make sure those who have the skills we need can get through the immigration system.
  • Increase business investment in research & development (R&D) up to the goal of 2% of our GDP.
  • Ensure businesses have all the support they need to complete the full innovation cycle, and can access the money to innovate and grow. We will work with banks, angel investors, large firms and the start-up community to develop partnerships better connecting us nationally and internationally.
  • Set up a government backed Innovation Fund that everyday Kiwis like you and me can invest in, to help power the economy forward.

To make NZ really successful, we need to produce people with the right skills.  Businesses want to hire people who can hit the ground running. 

TOP has some great ideas here too:

  • We will incentivise universities to respond to the needs of business and innovate in what and how they teach. We need more short courses and useful internships that have been co-designed with businesses seeking those skills.
  • We will stop incentivising universities to do low-value research, enrol too many graduate students, and inflate grades, just to boost their ranking.
  • Instead, we’ll 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 them to create value for their student clients in the shortest time. This is a genius way for everyone to see if providers are doing what they say they can do - equip students with useful learning in good time.
  • 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.

New Zealand used to be known for its ability to come up with clever new solutions and get good things done.  TOP’s policy will get us back to being a country that does more than just write our bright ideas down on paper.

Download the policy now

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Page last updated on 2-Aug 2020


Evidence. Most NZ companies don’t need leading-edge R&D. Much of the time, they just need to solve small, urgent technical problems. Universities are conflicted when it comes to doing industry focused work, since they are not rewarded for it (either via academic promotions or by the Performance Based Research Fund, which prioritise fundamental research, not applied research). Consequently, they don’t put their best brains on it, and they struggle to complete projects in a time-frame that industry finds useful.

They will get funded on the basis of the services they have provided to firms in the previous month (up to a capped number of hours per project – say 20 hours). Each institution sends one monthly invoice to MBIE for reimbursement. Firms will have to complete a short customer feedback form to make sure the project was satisfactory – no payment without their sign-off. We’ve done this in the past. It’s cheap to run and surprisingly effective. Bigger projects, such as regional or industry initiatives, will be funded via a separate fund, with clear objectives and outcomes and robust evaluation of results.

Fit with industry and/or regional economic development strategy, with clear objectives and outcomes and robust evaluation of results. Regional funds could be devolved to regions to allocate. Industry funds would probably be handled nationally, but with input from end-users in setting priorities.

Our local economy is small, and we are a very long way away from our customers. That means we struggle to attract good management talent and investment capital, or even to keep up with the latest technical or market developments, and we have to go global too soon – as small, under-funded, and unsophisticated operations. That means we need to tweak our immigration settings to attract management talent to lead our companies, as well as bringing in other high-value skills to support innovation.

There’s a lot of low-quality, investigator-led research being undertaken by universities that is driven by the perverse incentives of the Performance Based Research Fund – too much emphasis on publishing journal papers and not enough credit for creating real-world impact. We would rather spend the money on research that makes a difference to New Zealand’s people, our environment, and our economy.

Really well. It enables us to reallocate funding to research that will make a difference to our environment and help us achieve the big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that we’ve committed to. We don’t have enough money going into those areas at present. These are big, complex, and urgent problems, and we need to get going.

It’s time to knock it on the head. It was a good idea 25 years ago, when universities were funded according to how many full-time equivalent students they had. The PBRF pushed them to value research more highly, and to ensure that their teaching was ‘research-informed’. But we’ve long since corrected that imbalance. Now teaching is under-valued and handed off to junior staff and senior students, so that academics can focus more on their research. Students are being short-changed, and there’s an awful lot of research being done that is of little value.

We’ve got the balance wrong. Too many low-level degrees that put graduates into horrendous debt and don’t lead to fulfilling jobs, but not enough trade training.

No, it’s fiscally neutral. It will be funded by reallocating funds currently going into a plethora of devolved funds, such as the National Science Challenges, which are extremely expensive to run, since each one has its own management team and governance board. They are costing us more than a billion dollars over 10 years, with about 25% chewed up in overhead.