Government plans to attract world-class researchers

New Zealand’s government has launched a NZ$70 million (US$49 million) plan to attract top researchers to the nation’s universities over the next four years.

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said the 'Entrepreneurial Universities' scheme would persuade leading academics to bring their research teams to New Zealand.

“We are especially wanting to recruit people with an established record in innovation and entrepreneurship in the top ‘maker’ disciplines, to help grow the pipeline of excellent innovative start-up companies in New Zealand, and train the next generation of scientific entrepreneurs.”

Joyce said the government had committed NZ$35 million to the scheme and New Zealand’s eight universities would be expected to make bids with matching funding.

“We will invite all the universities to bid for the opportunity, and expect up to 15-20 world-leading researchers and their teams to be brought to New Zealand over a three year period.”

Joyce said the programme followed a suggestion by the University of Auckland, and would be modelled on similar programmes around the world.

“We need to keep challenging ourselves and keep adding to our hi-tech sector. Entrepreneurial Universities will strengthen our research and start-up capabilities and add to the learning opportunities for our undergraduates.”

The chairperson of Universities New Zealand, Professor Harlene Hayne, welcomed the scheme.

She said it would make a big difference to universities’ ability to attract the best researchers.

“We have a university system that is under significant financial pressure and that has been facing significantly greater pressure in both recruiting and retaining top quality researchers,” she said.

“Half of all academic staff in New Zealand universities were recruited from overseas. In some cases, this has involved attracting bright young New Zealanders back after completion of further studies. In other cases, this has been recruiting overseas academics whose international experience can significantly enhance knowledge when applied in a New Zealand context.

“In both cases, we are recruiting in an increasingly competitive international marketplace for skills.”

The vice-chancellor of the University of Auckland, Professor Stuart McCutcheon, praised the investment.

“This initiative will enable us to invest in more entrepreneurial research professors who would ‘turbo-charge’ the world-leading research programmes currently being undertaken at the university by its key researchers,” he said.

“Modern economies require modern industries and this initiative will help New Zealand develop a modern high-tech export sector through radical innovation, as well as enhancing our current, largely primary industries.”

But the president of the Tertiary Education Union, Sandra Grey, said the fund was solving the wrong problem in the wrong way.

“The problem that people in New Zealand universities face is that they do not have enough resources to do their current job as well as they would like. We should be investing in those people first,” she said.

Dr Grey said universities did not need another bureaucratic, competitive fund that rewarded only the minister’s pet projects.

“If there is new money to spare the minister could get the best return by investing it in baseline teaching and research – such as the Student Achievement Component [per-student subsidy] of the tertiary education budget – or in equity funding to support new students through tertiary education. Those are the areas that need investment rather than cuts.”