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Science reforms 1989 - 1996

As part of the reform of central government agencies, science institutions were restructured to separate policy and ownership, funding, and operational functions. The Crown Institutes Act 1992 abolished the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the technology division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Meteorological Service, the Forest Research Institute and the Department of Health's communicable diseases centre, and replaced them with ten Crown Research Institutes.

These institutes bid for funding from a variety of sources, but primarily from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology's Public Good Science Fund. Today (following the closure of the Institute for Social Research and Development in 1994) there are nine crown research institutes administered under the Act (see Box 4.3). The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology was created in 1989 to advise the government on the overall policy framework, priorities and funding for research, science and technology, and to provide contract management services to the Minister for the implementation of funding.

The Ministry works closely with the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, which is a statutory body responsible for allocating government funds to specific science activities. It administers the Public Good Science Fund-a contestable pool of funds for research in science and technology. The Foundation was also responsible for establishing the Marsden Fund. This Fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand, and supports ingenuity and excellence in scientific research.

Box 4. 3: Crown Research Institutes

The crown research institutes were established under the 1992 Crown Research Institutes Act 1992. Establishment of the Crown Research Institutes was guided by principles underlying other economic and institutional reforms of the 1980s. By subjecting science and research to market controls, the government looked to achieve three principal objectives: accountability, enhanced economic growth, and improved decision-making. The institutes are registered as companies, have boards of directors appointed by the government, and manage their own resources. Currently there are nine Crown Research Institutes (Statistics New Zealand 1996):

NZ Forest Research Institute Ltd : research on profitable and environmentally sound forest and wood products and production processes;

AgResearch (New Zealand Pastoral Agriculture Research Institute Ltd) : research on innovative solutions and opportunities for the food, fibre and biotechnology-related industries based on pastoral agriculture;

Horticulture and Food Research Institute of New Zealand Ltd : research to help New Zealand's horticulture and food organisations develop and enhance their competitive advantage within New Zealand and overseas;

New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research Ltd: research on the production and processing of crops and foods for local and overseas processing and manufacturing companies, farmers and growers;

Landcare Research New Zealand Ltd : environmental research on management of land resources for conservation and primary production, to benefit land users, resource managers and policy makers;

Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd : geo-science and nuclear science expertise to government and industrial organisations involved in geothermal, oil and gas exploration and development, and environmental studies throughout the Asia-Pacific region;

Industrial Research Ltd : scientific and technological research and development in the processing, manufacturing and energy industries, in partnership with the government;

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd : research for the sustainable management of New Zealand's atmospheric, marine and freshwater systems and associated resources; environmental consultancy work on a global scale;

Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd: science-related research, analytical and consulting services in public health, environmental health and forensics within New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.

A tenth Crown Research Institute, responsible for social research, was also set up in 1992, but was subsequently disbanded. The Crown Research Institutes obtain their money from contract research and by bidding for project grants from various funds, the largest of which is the Government's Public Good Science Fund. The Public Good Science Fund supports research on topics that the Government, acting on advice from the Ministry of Research Science and Technology, considers as high priorities. Bids for Public Good Science Fund support are evaluated by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology.

This system means that the institutes are required to do significant amounts of work outlining their proposals for funding. They must focus their projects on the priorities identified by the Government. As suppliers of services, they must also manage their projects according to their clients' needs. One criticism of the scheme is that it results in research constricted in the first place to the Government's priorities, and in the second place to other clients' priorities. This means that research is often directed to scientific 'outputs' that are driven by short-term rather than long-term goals, often focused on economic production. Scientists are also concerned by the lack of any provision for more 'pure' science on longer-term projects which are not driven by client interests, but rather by wider social and economic interests.

The advantages of the system, however, are that it provides for closer scrutiny of projects being funded by the government. The institutes have more clearly delineated functions, and work more closely with industry. In the area of environmental management, this means that research responds to priorities identified by those implementing policies developed through public consultation processes, and in response to regional environmental issues. This leads to an integrated approach in the development of efficient and effective environmental solutions.

In addition to the Crown Research Institutes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade administers the New Zealand Antarctic Institute, a separate crown entity based in Christchurch. The Institute was set up to address a perceived lack of coordination in Antarctic activities, and to promote research in the area. It manages New Zealand's operational and research interests in Antarctica.