Responses to the CRI Taskforce

By Daniel Collins 06/03/2010

The big news in NZ science this week was the release of the CRI Taskforce report. (Press release; NZ Herald #1, #2)

It did not recommend merging any CRIs as was thought (perhaps feared), but it did make a wide range of other suggestions. Paramount among these being:

  • more reliable, less contestable funding
  • encouragement of greater collaboration among CRIs and with other organisations
  • a shift from short-term financial returns to long-term societal benefit (for example…)
  • fostering stronger ties with stake-holders
  • more effective board oversight
  • a shift from commercialisation to broader technology transfer

The various CRI heads, who no doubt already knew the report’s contents, gave their applause. The GNS CEO called it a “milestone”. The AgResearch Chairman called it “visionary and courageous”. The IRL Board Chair called it “an excellent report”. The NIWA CEO and Chairman of Science New Zealand called the recommendations “sensible”.

The NZ Association of Scientists, which comprises many CRI scientists, was also supportive:

“The Association feels that the Taskforce has carried out an excellent analysis of the CRIs, the
problems they face, and how these issues affect their ability to work in the national interest.
Their recommendations are very much a step in the right direction, and will allow for adaptive

Speaking for the universities, Professor Sir David Skegg, Chair of the NZVCC’s Research Committee, said they are looking forward to greater “inter-institutional collaborative research”.

Outside the science arena, Business NZ Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly called it “an admirable blueprint”.

But not everyone was entirely happy. The Public Service Association, which also comprises CRI scientists and other CRI staff, said:

“we’re disappointed the taskforce makes no mention that CRIs are struggling to recruit science staff because of low pay rates.”

Fellow SciBlogger Shaun Hendy of the MacDiarmid Institute (a partnership among four universities and two CRIs) said the Taskforce “nailed it”.

“If its recommendations are implemented, I think CRIs will finally gain the ability to work strategically for the interests of New Zealand.  Not everyone will be pleased; I have no doubt that fully contestable funding has been good for the universities, but I would argue that it has forced the CRIs to become more like universities, while neglecting their role as agents of technology transfer.”

Even with all these largely positive endorsements, we still have to wait to see what the Government chooses to implement, when and how. And what other changes may be made.