IRANZ science briefing released

PromethION genome sequencer

PromethION genome sequencer at the Bragato Research Institute. Photo: Bragato Research Institute.

The Briefing for Incoming Ministers (Science, Innovation & Technology) was sent to the new Minister of Science, Innovation & Technology, the Hon. Judith Collins, as well as other ministers with an interest in the science portfolio early in February.

The IRANZ briefing says that New Zealand can only gain from increasing its investment in high-impact and excellent research, and says the Government must do this if it wants to achieve a high-performing economy, world-leading social well-being, protection for the environment, and an efficient 21st century infrastructure.

The briefing points out the Government plays a vital role in investing in and promoting scientific research, and that the Government’s SIT strategies, policies, and investment portfolios should consider impact across the entire research, science, innovation, and technology ecosystem, including IROs.

Most IRANZ members are Public Research Organisations according to OECD and the (UK) Royal Society List of Public and Non-profit Research Organisations categories. IRANZ believes the government should consider widening its definition of Public Research Organisations from its current restrictive categorisation which currently only includes Crown-owned organisations.

The briefing includes the suggestion that strategic investment in SIT capability and infrastructure should be available where appropriate to all research organisations, with baseline funding for organisations who are providing resources, knowledge, and supervision of PhD and post-doc researchers.

As well as outlining the role of the Independent Research Association (IRANZ) and its member organisations, the briefing outlined areas of concern for IRANZ within the current science system.

Contestable funding was eroded by mapping monies to Strategic Research and National Science Challenges, this caused a rapid increase in competition for remaining funding. Available funding was then further eroded by the COVID-19 crisis. The impact on IROs, particularly those that do not receive Strategic Funding, was severe. IRANZ looks forward to monies mapped to the NSCs being returned to the Endeavour Fund.

Current success rates of around 15% for Endeavour and other contestable research funding bids are very low and a lot of valuable research effort is wasted and career precarity for research professionals is increased. IRANZ believes it is time for a major review of the contestable funding processes.

Independent Research Organisations (IROs) of New Zealand carry intellectual, material, and cultural capability, using science and related activities to develop and commercialise innovative technologies and solutions. They have impact across the spectrum from local communities to global markets, with ownership and governance independent of Government. IRANZ also provides an independent voice for Māori research organisations.

IRANZ members and associates employ over 1250 staff and have a combined turnover of around $170 million p.a., with approximately $75 million of research investment from Government and $35 million from independent stakeholders - playing a key role in business expenditure on research and development (BERD) in New Zealand.

IROs can play a key role in the government’s objectives in the SIT sector, and already they are frequently part of “the best teams” required for important research programmes, either as lead organisations or as subcontractors for Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) or university research programmes.

IRANZ Māori-led member organisations include Te Tira Whakamātaki, with a research focus on the environment, particularly biosecurity, pest management, and climate-related disasters; Takarangi Research, which is integrating SIT into vulnerable marae communities, rebuilding economic, environmental, and social resilience to climate impacts; and Taiuru Associates, which is addressing Māori ethics and Māori Data Sovereignty with regards to data, robotics, and AI.

The unique strategic capabilities of IROs are outlined and include:

  • Fire testing facilities and a structures laboratory capable of testing the resilience of up to three-story structures at BRANZ; Equipment for developing sustainable, alternate roading materials, bespoke monitoring equipment to aid resilience and disaster recovery, and a wind tunnel servicing international clients at WSP Research Laboratories;

  • Cawthron’s Shellfish Aquaculture and Seafood Safety Platforms working with MPI and industry to sustainability grow the sector and determine appropriate responses through research to ensure safety;

  • Capability in wet fibre spinning at Lincoln Agritech. This enables the creation of textile quality fibres at small pilot scale for developing sustainable fibre technologies;

  • Medical imaging using a high-tech GE 3-Tesla MRI machine and advanced software, at the Mātai Institute of Medical Research, based in Gisborne-Tairāwhiti, with research supporting kaupapa Māori and regional development;

  • New Zealand’s only licensed cell therapy manufacturing suite at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research;

  • Cutting-edge genomic sequencing technologies and analytical methods at the Marlborough-based Bragato Research Institute which are used not only in grapevine improvement, but for genomic sequencing for many other research organisations; and

  • HERA’s Fab4.0Lab, which is the leading industry4.0 fabrication research and training facility in Aotearoa.

In addition, health IROs played a vital role in New Zealand’s COVID-19 response. Malaghan Institute as a lead player in the Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand and RNA Development Platform, and the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) with clinical trials and public health initiatives, and by providing a regular report on the latest therapeutics for MBIE.


Date posted: 29 February 2024

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