IRL to be reborn as turbocharged tech institute

More funding will be injected into the science sector to transform Industrial Research Limited (IRL) into an advanced technology institute, Prime Minister John Key announced yesterday.

More funding will be injected into the science sector to transform Industrial Research Limited (IRL) into an advanced technology institute, Prime Minister John Key announced yesterday.

Over the next five years, an additional $120 million and $150 million will be invested in IRL to see it become a high-tech headquarters for New Zealand.

IRL will be reborn as Advanced Technology New Zealand and its focus will be on supporting industry development.

“High-tech sectors could contribute substantially more to the economy than they currently do. We already have successful companies in this sector, particularly in areas like ICT, biotechnology and medical technology, but we need more of them and we need them to be bigger,” Key said.

“Over the next five years, we will effectively double the size and capability of IRL, transforming it into an advanced technology institute with up to 700 staff and with a far greater reach than at present.”

Shaun HendyShaun Hendy

The ATNZ will have a strong business focus and facilities in Auckland and Christchurch and will work closely with industry; the existing Gracefield facility in Lower Hutt will be retained.

“It will be a natural conduit for engineering and applied sciences graduates, meaning many of our best and brightest engineers and scientists will stay here in New Zealand.”

Key said the government would not have to take on extra debt to fund the advanced technology institute.

Reshaping IRL was among the recommendations contained in the Power Innovation report, released yesterday by science and innovation minister Wayne Mapp and acting minister for economic development David Carter.

The independent report looks at how New Zealand can best grow its high-tech manufacturing and service sectors, and recommends reviewing current tertiary education policies to better meet industry demand for science and engineering graduates, establishing an innovation council, and proceeding with a national network of commercialisation centres.

The IRL’s Professor Shaun Hendy said the diversity of the high-value manufacturing sector made it difficult for IRL to support innovation in more than a few select areas.

“The new ATI will be much better equipped to address the range of R&D needed by high-value manufacturing firms in depth. The creation of the ATI is a bold initiative that has been long overdue.”

He said the report failed to address the skills shortage, however, despite estimating the demand for engineering graduates from this sector at roughly double what the university system currently provides.

"The current government has a poor record here, having cut both the Bright Futures PhD Scholarships and the NZ Science and Technology Post-doctoral Fellowships scheme in their first three years. This is something that will have to be addressed as the high-value manufacturing sector grows."

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan, founder of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology criticised the lack of a recommendation for establishing competitive funding agencies.

"Implementing these recommendations will require much greater commitment to the goals outlined here than has presently been shown by government ministers," he said.

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