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Over the past decade the number of R&D staff transferring into New Zealand’s private sector has reduced according to IPENZ.

There has been a corresponding reduction in upskilling says the Institution of Professional Engineers NZ, and the low absorptive capacity of the private sector to R&D and other new technologies remains a major issue.
IPENZ recently launched its document and thought piece, ‘Catalysing economic growth – boosting innovation expertise in the private sector’. (See other sticK stories, here and here).

One of the reasons for this it says is that until very recently, the criteria for obtaining and retaining public research investment in the CRIs and universities has led them to operate very strong retention policies.

The same bodies are also rewarded for a track record of scholarly publications more than commercial outcomes.

In what might be a provocative document (at least for some scientists), IPENZ makes two proposals.

• A much greater encouragement/incentivisation for academics to go out into industry and build strategic partnerships with companies, and to transfer skilled people to the company at the end of the project

• Incentivise small private businesses to take on R&D staff (essentially through government co-funding)

As Science Media Centre director Peter Griffin commented on the IPENZ proposals, the ideas went down like a lead balloon when he raised it at a recent science communicators’ get-together.

However, IPENZ contends that its two proposals would be better than other policies because:

• It would focus on building innovation expertise and building skill pools to make NZ ‘sticky’ to high technology manufacturing technology manufacturing. Companies would build local skills networks and want to keep close to their university and CRI collaborators. The smart university academics or CRIs would be incentivised to keep close to their company and build clusters to retain the client for the future

• Research providers would be incentivised to shift their focus to developing innovation potential potential in industry, not just to obtain investment from industry for work carried out at the research provider’s site

• It would provide expanded career paths based on science, mathematics, technology and engineering study. This would rebalance NZ’s tertiary education investment much closer to the OECD norm

• The decision point on what research to perform would be taken away from a centralised bureaucratic process to a distributed decision making point close to market information

• Companies would be incentivised to increase their investment and grow their potential to adopt, adapt and use new technology for commercial benefit

• Barriers would be reduced for small businesses wanting to get R&D going in their own premises

• New Zealand would be made a visibly smarter, leading edge, technology-based society

Yes, there might be howls in the halls of academia to such proposals.

But the point is, we need to get more bang from our R&D buck.

Let’s hope the document and the thinking behind it doesn’t disappear too quickly.