More than $401 million is going into research in the hope of spurring innovation and development in a post-Covid-19 world.

The Government today announced the package which includes a research and development loan scheme for businesses.

The $401.3 million will come from the Budget and the Covid Response and Recovery Fund and is broken into:

• $196 million for Crown Research Institutes
• $150 million for R&D (research and development) loan scheme
• $33 million for Māori research and development opportunities
• $12 million for the Nationally Significant Collections and Databases
• $10 million to help maintain in-house capability at Callaghan Innovation

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Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said the funding would "help secure and create jobs".

Woods said while New Zealand was in a better position than other countries to weather the global economic crisis, there needed to be "smart choices" about what the country wanted the recovery to look like.

Megan Woods has announced $401m for research. Photo / Getty Images
Megan Woods has announced $401m for research. Photo / Getty Images

"Without new ideas and innovation we risk missing out to the rest of the world as we all look at how to rebuild our economies."

Details are scarce on the $150m short term R&D Loan Scheme, but it will be available to businesses to maintain their research and development programmes and secure jobs attached to it. More details will be announced soon.

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Woods said the scheme, which will come from the Response and Recovery Fund, would help ensure business had confidence that they could keep up investment in uncertain times.

The $196m for Crown Research Institutions comes from both the Budget and the Covid Response and Recovery Fund and would go towards retaining talent and continuing research, Woods said.

The $33m for Māori research and development opportunities will come from the Budget and will support Māori to partner with the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to co-design a fund to make further investments in their research, science and innovation priorities.

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The $12 million for the Nationally Significant Collections and Databases will come from the Budget and would support custodianship of collections and databases determined to be important to New Zealand.

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And the final $10 million from the package will maintain in-house research and development at Callaghan Innovation to serve New Zealand businesses. It will come from the Covid Response and Recovery Fund.

"Our research, science and innovation system supports New Zealand by providing well paid and secure jobs, high value products and helping productivity growth – all of which will be vital as we look toward economic recovery in the aftermath of Covid," Woods said.

Science centre renovations and developments

More details have also come to light about development at research centres.

AgResearch has been given capital expenditure from the Covid Response and Recovery Fund to develop a new "fit-for-future" scientific research facility and corporate headquarters at Lincoln University.

The centre will focus on food and fibres research and innovation to help farmers and growers manage challenges.

And Environmental Science and Research (ESR) has been allocated money from the Budget to renovate its Kenepuru site in Porirua where its public health intelligence, virology team and influenza research programme are based.

Niwa chief executive John Morgan, the chair of Crown research institutes' peak body Science New Zealand, said: "This is a timely and most welcome investment into the CRIs. It recognises our key role in helping New Zealand recover and rebuild."

Morgan said the sudden downturn and uncertain future came on top of long-term cost pressures.

"It put at risk critical research programmes and progressing the facilities our staff need," he said.

"Now we can plan with more certainty. It will help support our science capability to address the immediate and the longer-term needs of New Zealand, as the nation recovers and rebuilds."

NZ Association of Scientists president Professor Troy Baisden agreed the Government's R&D funding would help maintain research capabilities and keep New Zealand competitive with comparable nations.

"The R&D loan scheme lacks details but will be critical to support business R&D during a period when the lack of profit blunts the use of the tax incentive scheme," Baisden said.

"It will be useful to hear from businesses whether and how a loan scheme may be useful to them, particularly to enable transformations accelerated by lockdowns or the economic downturn."

But Baisden said the association had been concerned that Māori researchers and academics were likely to be on temporary contracts and more vulnerable to the downturn, "so the designation of a fund with significant support for Māori researchers is welcome".

"Previously, funds designated specifically for Māori-led research were insufficient to fund full-time PhDs or early career researchers, so this could provide a transformational opportunity."

A former president of the association, prominent scientist Associate Professor Nicola Gaston was similarly pleased to see specific funding for Māori research.

"We know that there are many examples of success in the Māori economy that demonstrate the potential for values-led enterprise to make a difference, in particular on issues of sustainability; this is perhaps the most hopeful signal in the funding package as it stands."

More broadly, Gaston argued the post-COVID business case for investment could not be the same as what it was six months ago.

"The research system is deeply connected internationally and the flow-on effects of closed borders for the careers of emerging researchers will be significant, as will the impact of reduced access to internationally-based infrastructure," Gaston said.

"These issues are of far more concern than the financial impact of lost international fees for our universities, yet seem to have received almost no attention from government."

She saw urgent need for funding to support the career development of researchers through postdoctoral fellowships, whether for those now unable to take up opportunities overseas, or for Kiwis who wish to bring their expertise home after international training.

"These people are in the business of creating their own jobs, whether within established industry or the start-up ecosystem, and we need to increase the pathways available for them to do this here in New Zealand."