Intended to benchmark the performance of the sector, particularly compared to other small advanced economies, there were several key findings in this year's edition of the Science and Innovation System Performance Report. Among those:
- R&D expenditure has grown 77 percent since 2000, but progress towards the Government's goal of business R&D surpassing 1 per cent of GDP is “slow but steady” (estimated at 0.6 percent in 2015).
- New Zealand produces relatively fewer graduates in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) than other small advanced economies, but numbers are growing.
- New Zealand has strong expertise in niche areas like astronomy, energy and physics, but does relatively little research in these areas.
Shaun Hendy, professor of physics at the University of Auckland and director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, said the report highlighted concerns that needed to be addressed. “The data we do have paints the picture of a science and innovation system that performs well on a per dollar basis, but one that could do with further investment. Relative to the small advanced economies, our recent performance has remained decidedly mixed across a range of measures.”
He was also critical of the pace of R&D spending growth. “While MBIE awards itself a pass mark on its goal of lifting business R&D to 1 percent of GDP by 2018, for instance, the data in the report provide little assurance that this is on track. Despite all the attention that business R&D has received in the last few years, it remains anaemic. This is very disappointing as it limits the long term growth of our economy.”
Yet Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce is enthused by the report’s findings. “This report provides us with a performance benchmark against other OECD countries including the other small advanced economies – Israel, Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Ireland and Denmark,” he said. “The report increases transparency by showing how public funding for science and innovation is being invested, and it begins to give a direct line-of-sight to the benefits that funding brings for the New Zealand economy, environment and society.”
He also said Government investment was a positive aspect. “This government invested $410.5 million new funding in science and innovation over four years through Budget 2016,” he said. “We know that better performance data will enable us to target our growing science investments effectively and to maximise their long-term value to New Zealand.”
This report complements the first Research, Science and Innovation Domain Plan, which was released by MBIE in September. The Domain Plan provides a long-term picture of what might be needed to improve official statistics, data and information, and suggests a coordinated, cross-agency plan for addressing issues.