Innovation Policy FAQ

Innovation Policy FAQ

  • Why do you think CRIs (Crown Research Institutes) and polytechs do a better job of supporting industry than universities?

    Answer

    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.

  • How will polytechs make their resources available to provide new services to business?

    Answer

    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.

  • What will the process look like for selecting the sectors or cases to fund?

    Answer

    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.

  • Why is New Zealand different to other countries in respect of innovation policy? Why can’t we just follow Israel or Ireland – or even Australia?

    Answer

    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.

  • What will happen to fundamental research under your policy? Will it have to stop?

    Answer

    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.

  • How does this fit in with your environmental and climate change policy?

    Answer

    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.

  • What about the PBRF?

    Answer

    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.

  • It sounds as though you want to wind back tertiary study. Why?

    Answer

    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.

  • Will this policy cost more?

    Answer

    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.