Strategic Directions and Public Investment
The Minister, also Minister of Economic Development and Tertiary Education, skills and Employment and Associate Minister of Finance, posed a number of questions to be considered and answered when defining and setting the Science and Innovation agenda and the corresponding public investment. In posing these questions he acknowledged that the science innovation sector requires two-way interaction and engagement between the research science sector and the commercial sector and that this occurs via non-linear processes.
The Minister’s questions directly and potentially immediately relevant to the MacDiarmid Institute were centred around the organisation of science in New Zealand and whether this is optimised for maximum benefit, the structure of the funding system and when in the process should investment by the Government occur.
In recognising that investment is essential and that innovation is not straightforward, the Ministry is charged with considering how science policy meshes with the landscape of science and innovation. What is essential is that the landscape used in this framework captures the breadth and complexity of the sector and not only the very small applied innovation aspects. An overly prescriptive and narrow focus will not feed innovation but strangle it and will hinder the leverage the Minister is demanding. But more importantly it will reduce the New Zealand science sector to a untenable position that will have long term repercussions.
If the Ministry understates the central roles that both research, from the fundamental through to the applied, and adaption of that research play, and fail to understand their real ability to change the science face of New Zealand, thousands of people will be affected and New Zealand’s ability to ensure a sustainable science basis, leading to enhanced prosperity will not be maximised but jeopardised. The magnitude and importance of the Ministry’s job shouldn’t be underestimated and must extend beyond the Ministry to all players in the sector to actively participate in developing and defining our future.
Following on from last week, another brief into the strategic focuses we considered at Science Executive. The MacDiarmid Difference for our students: how do we ensure that we are creating benefit for our students beyond what they would gain elsewhere including setting them up for the major contributions they will make to New Zealand? One thing that gained considerable support was an internship for our students during their PhDs within New Zealand Industry whereby both the student and the company benefit directly. This later point is crucial, matching the two and ensuring real benefit, will create real differences on both sides of the equation. Hence, this has considerable overhead cost, but the benefit short and long term to our students and our industry and the prosperity of New Zealand is huge.