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Business, science welcome report on CRI shakeup

The business and science communities have welcomed a new report saying Crown research institutes (CRIs) are funded wrongly, lack direction and are short-term focused because of their reliance on contracts.
A CRI taskforce, headed by venture capitalist Ne

Maggie Tait of NZPA
Wed, 11 Jul 2018

The business and science communities have welcomed a new report saying Crown research institutes (CRIs) are funded wrongly, lack direction and are short-term focused because of their reliance on contracts.

A CRI taskforce, headed by venture capitalist Neville Jordan, has been looking into how the most can be got out of the eight CRIs, which range from Niwa and GNS Science to AgResearch, Plant & Food, Landcare and Scion (forestry).

The review was to examine the purpose, governance and funding of CRIs, which were established in 1992.

Research, Science and Techonology Minister Wayne Mapp says the report will be a "vital tool" and recommendations, such as providing long-term funding, will be considered carefully.

The report says there was no problem with the number of CRIs, but with delivery of services.

"It is our opinion that the main factors impeding CRI performance relate to their funding, ownership and government arrangements," the report says.

Problems include:

• Unclear objectives and arrangements that placed undue emphasis on research and development that reflected well on individual CRIs, rather than on New Zealand's overall benefit;

• Multiple lines of accountability which diluted the CRI's sense of purpose or direction. CRIs were accountable to ministers, Treasury and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (Morst) all of which had different requirements;

• CRIs were heavily dependent on competitive contracts, which were often short-term, and this made it hard for them to operate strategically; and

• there was a need to improve collaboration by changing the existing funding and governance, which inhibited collaboration, positioned natural partners such as universities and firms as competitors and interfered with CRIs adopting best practice research management.

Mr Jordan says increasing funding is not the top priority and the first focus should be on getting the fundamentals right.

"We have had very productive and informative discussions with CRIs and other stakeholders. There is an appetite for change in the science sector and broad support for the changes we have suggested. CRIs have made many important contributions to New Zealand's economic, social and environmental well-being. We have a unique chance to build on their strengths and successes."

Recommendations include:

• Clarifying CRIs' roles;

• Funding changes to focus on each CRI's core purpose and for that funding to be allocated directly on a long-term basis. "The current level of contestable and at risk funding renders CRIs vulnerable as businesses, creates uncertainty and undermines their ability to act strategically."

• Remove unnecessary compliance from an excessive number of contracts. "Core purpose funding should be consolidated into a single contract as soon as practical." The funding should be negotiated as part of a rolling five-year research strategy.

• Emphasis to change from allocating funding against promises of delivery, to delivering core purpose benefits.

• Set aside some funding for national collaborative work.

• Improve accountability and measure CRIs against new performance indicators.

• The government to set up one entity to manage contestable funds and funding infrastructure.

Positive reaction

Business NZ Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly says, “The report’s recommendations will be warmly welcomed by business.

“They offer an admirable blue print of how to improve the performance of our RS&T investment in CRIs and their capacity to collaborate with business to grow the New Zealand economy."

The chairman of Science New Zealand and CEO of Niwa, John Morgan, says the taskforce has done a great job in identifying the issues and solutions, and has provided the government with a sound and constructive path forward.

“The CRI Taskforce has presented the most comprehensive review of the value of CRIs in our near 20-year history. They have concluded we do a great job for New Zealand’s economic, environmental and social wealth and wellbeing – but could do a better job still if certain areas were addressed.

“They identify three big issues: the need for simpler funding systems; the need for the government to be clear about its expectations of us; and issues around governance when multiple lines of accountability exist.

“We think they have got it right, and have proposed sensible solutions."

Maggie Tait of NZPA
Wed, 11 Jul 2018
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Business, science welcome report on CRI shakeup
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