Last week, John Key signalled in a speech to Parliament that there would be changes to the way the Crown Research Institutes are funded. Indeed, the debate over CRI funding has continued pretty much unabated since they were created. In earlier posts, we looked at the growth in the total bibliometric output of the CRIs and at the increase in their citation impact relative to the rest of New Zealand. In this post, I will look at the relationship between CRI funding and bibliometric output. The data suggest to me that the growth in bibliometric output has been driven by the development of new revenue sources.
First, I want to look at CRI revenues since 1994. It is clear that CRI revenue has increased by about 30% over this period, once adjusted for inflation (figures are given in 2008 $). Not all CRIs seem report their levels of public good science funding (or PGSF, which I will define here as the level of FRST and capability funding), but for those that do (most), I also plot PGSF revenue after adjusting for inflation. Note that the PGSF revenue, at least for those CRIs that report it, has remained static over this period.
This is especially interesting given statements made when the CRIs were established. Here is Sir James Stewart, Chair of the CRI Implementation Steering Committee:
“The science staff surpluses are not an outcome of the restructuring, but in part stem from chronic underfunding of science … Science departments had carried too many people for the money available.”
So how have staffing levels changed at the CRIs? Statistics NZ collects FTE data from the CRIs, assigning research FTEs to the categories of researcher, technician and support staff. Here is how Statistics NZ defines the different categories:
Researchers are defined as those staff engaged in the conception and/or creation of new knowledge/products; personnel involved in the planning or management of scientific and technical aspects of R&D projects, and software developers.
Technicians are defined as staff engaged in technical tasks in support of R&D, normally under the direction and supervision of a researcher.
Other Supporting Staff
Other Supporting Staff are described as staff providing specific information acquisition and treatment (for example drafting, typing, maintaining libraries etc. or specific administrative support such as bookkeeping, personnel services etc.)
The COMU website reports that just over 80% of CRI staff were involved in research in 2008. On the right, the plot shows how the numbers of these research staff in each of the Stats NZ categories have changed according to the Stats NZ R&D survey. (Note – in an earlier post, I reported on the numbers of researchers at CRIs, but there I used government sector researchers as a proxy, as not all the CRI data has been published. The data on the right is the actual CRI data kindly supplied to me by MoRST.) From the plot, we see that research staff FTEs have steadily increased at the expense of technical and support staff. The decline in support staff since the mid-1990s is particularly dramatic. This is something that has been very noticeable to me during my time as a CRI scientist.
Now let’s look at how the revenues above scale with staff FTE and bibliometric output. In the plot on the left, I give the total revenue (in 2008 $) per Researcher FTE (not research staff). This has remained relatively stable since 1994, fluctuating at around $400k per Researcher FTE. On the other hand, revenue per paper published declined sharply in the 1990s, but then stabilised at roughly $500k per paper over the last decade. Of course, a good fraction of the research conducted in the CRIs will not lead to a publication, so this number does not reflect the true cost of a publication.
As we have seen, the CRIs’ bibliometric output has risen since their creation, and their citation impact has grown faster than the rest of New Zealand. It also seems that they have become much less dependent on PGSF funding since they were created, with total revenue growing by 30% while PGSF revenue remained static. Researcher FTE levels have risen, albeit at the expense of support and technical staff (although this may be typical of many businesses?), while the revenue per researcher FTE has remained static. Thus, the generation of revenue from non-PGSF sources, has led to increases in researcher staffing levels, which has in turn lifted the bibliometric output of the CRIs. To go any further, we will need to look more closely at the performance of individual CRIs.