Lifeline for city research centres

LUCY TOWNEND AND MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 16/05/2014

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The Budget has given two Palmerston North research centres the chance to regain millions of dollars of government funding they lost just a week ago.

The Riddet Institute and the Allan Wilson Centre are each set to lose their status as Centres of Research Excellence (CoRE) next year, depriving them of an average $35 million each between January and 2020.

But the Budget, released yesterday, has boosted CoRE funding by $53m over four years, allowing a further three CoREs to be funded from 2016. It serves as a second chance for the centres, both at Massey University's Manawatu campus, with hope they could regain spots as CoREs in coming years and the subsequent financial support.

"It's fantastic news for New Zealand science and it shows that the Government is highly supportive of science and it driving industrial innovation," Riddet co-director Distinguished Professor Paul Moughan said.

"It's a real vote of con fidence in that sense and it has got to be great for Palmerston North, which is a real science centre.

"The Riddet Institute is a world-class organisation, we do truly ex cellent science and that's borne out by any performance indicator you want to throw at the institute."

Innovation in food science was essential for New Zealand's economy and worthy for investment in the sector's growth potential, he said.

"It would be a shame to see that weakened in any way, but here's an opportunity for the Government to recognise that and make sure we keep it robust and strong for the future."

The Riddet Institute became a CoRE in 2007 and received about $3.2m a year in CoRE funding, which made up a third of the institute's annual income - the rest is drawn from national and international partners.

The Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution has had two CoRE funding terms since 2003 and received about $4.5m a year, which was the centre's main source of income. Massey University vice-chancellor Steve Maharey said he was pleased to see more funding for CoREs as well as an 8.5 per cent boost to tuition subsidies for science and agriculture, areas Massey specialised in.

It was disappointing the Government was spending money on specific areas of tertiary education when the universities as a whole were crying out for more money, he said.

"We're not seeing a great deal of money coming into the university system so things like wage rates can rise for staff, so money can be put into capital development."

All but one of New Zealand's universities was ranked in the top 3 per cent in the world but their status was slipping as governments overseas increased funding for tertiary education while in New Zealand funding was stagnant.

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Maharey said with both major parties signalling surpluses in the coming years he was hoping to see them make investing in universities a priority in budgets to come.

Other Budget announcements in the tertiary sector included an additional $4m to fund a further 6000 places for apprentices nationwide in the Apprenticeship Reboot scheme and $500,000 for foundation education for under 25-year-olds and for Maori and Pasifika trades training programmes.

More Budget coverage, pages 3, 5, 6

- Manawatu Standard

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