Government announces new Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs)

By Siouxsie Wiles 08/05/2014 5

The NZ government today announced the country’s next Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs), who between them will receive just under $35 million per year for 6 years starting in January 2015. They are:

The Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, hosted by University of Auckland
MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, hosted by Victoria University of Wellington
The Medical Technologies CoRE, hosted by University of Auckland
The Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, hosted by University of Otago
Te Pūnaha Matatini – The Centre for Complex Systems and Networks, hosted by University of Auckland
Brain Research New Zealand – Rangahau Roro Aotearoa, co-hosted by University of Otago and University of Auckland

The CoREs are funded through the Tertiary Education Commission and have at their heart the development of future capability by training the new generation of Kiwi scientists. They must also do excellent collaborative research of strategic importance to New Zealand.

The scheme was first established in 2001, with 5 CoREs funded in 2002 and a further 2 funded in 2003. These were refunded in 2006/7. In 2013, the government announced that there would be a further contestable funding round, in which existing CoREs would have to compete with applications to establish new CoREs. The details of the criteria for funding and the process are available here. According to this report, 27 applications were received and there were many raised eyebrows when four of the existing CoREs (Gravida: National Research Centre for Growth and Development, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga – New Zealand’s Indigenous CoRE, the Bio-Protection Research Centre and the Riddet Institute) failed to make the shortlist of 8. There was even talk of some staging a revolt against the decision.

Of the 6 CoREs that have been successful in this funding round, two are existing CoREs (Maurice Wilkins Centre and MacDiarmid Institute) with the remaining four being new initiatives. In many ways this is great news for NZ science and clearly shows that new ideas and collaborative networks are forming all the time. Looking at the research areas covered by the new CoREs, they represent a very varied portfolio which has got to be a good thing for NZ. I am especially pleased to see the Maurice Wilkins Centre refunded given that infectious diseases have been locked out of the National Science Challenges.

There is also a clear message here that just because a CoRE has been funded and operated successfully in the past, this doesn’t mean that it should be funded ad infinitum. A difficult lesson for those existing CoREs who were unsuccessful. So is this decision the end of those networks? Gravida, which according to it’s website “seeks to reveal how conditions encountered in early life affect the way an individual grows and develops throughout life” seem to be very closely aligned with the ‘A better start/E tipu e rea’ National Science Challenge which will be receiving up to $34.7 million funding over the next 10 years. Likewise, Lincoln University’s Bio-Protection CoRE, whose website says it “focuses on finding innovative, natural and sustainable solutions to protect New Zealand’s plant-based, productive ecosystems from pests, diseases and weeds” seems well aligned to the ‘New Zealand’s Biological Heritage/ Ngā koiora tuku iho’ National Science Challenge, which will receive up to $63.7 million over the next 10 years to protect and manage our biodiversity, improve our biosecurity, and enhance our resilience to harmful organisms.

As for Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, there must surely be support for ring-fenced funding to support research of relevance to Māori communities and to address disparities in Māori participation and success in tertiary education and research training which this CoRE has done so well.

The surprise in today’s announcement has to current CoRE, the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution hosted by Massey University, missing out on refunding. Many AWC researchers are international leaders in evolutionary biology, and have developed many excellent tools for data analysis. They have also been very active in communicating their science to the public and hosting many great public speakers on visits to New Zealand. AWC researchers are currently sequencing the genome of the tuatara*. They are hoping this project will aid efforts to conserve the species, so perhaps some of their activities fall under the ‘New Zealand’s Biological Heritage/ Ngā koiora tuku iho’ National Science Challenge too.

*Read David Winter’s excellent post on why we should care about sequencing the tuatara genome.

Conflict of interest statement: I am an Associate Investigator of the Maurice Wilkins Centre and have had a great deal of support from them over the past few years, for both my research, and some of my science communication activities, including my Art in the Dark project with Rebecca Klee and my firefly animation.

5 Responses to “Government announces new Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs)”

  • Oh don’t worry Siouxsie, a little bit of conflict of interest doesn’t hurt anyone does it Maurice…….

  • Well, Lincoln University’s Bio-Protection CoRE hasn’t stopped them wanting to save money by ditching their Entomology Research Museum (LUNZ)!

  • Stephen – it makes me wonder how or if financial stability plays in the CoRE funding decisions as Lincoln is currently reducing staff numbers in the face of financial pressure. Media reports have that the overall cut is to be ~10% of their staff. (I imagine the financial issues are why the museum funding has been cut.)

  • Grant – yes, I just don’t understand the economics! The first sentence in the above article reads [quote]The NZ government today announced the country’s next Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs), who between them will receive just under $35 million per year for 6 years starting in January 2015[unquote]. Given that it is “reasonable” to imagine that an insect reference collection would be “very useful” to a Bio-Protection CoRE, I just cannot understand why they still can’t find enough money to continue maintaining a one room collection with a single full time curator! It just doesn’t seem to make sense! It is almost as if they are trying to divert CoRE funding into other budgets..

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