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Story: Research institutions

Although a small player in the research world, New Zealand has particular strengths in agriculture, health and earth-science research. Research institutions include universities, Crown research institutes and private organisations.

Story by Simon Nathan
Main image: A forensic ESR scientist swabbing evidence

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New Zealand does important research into agriculture, health and earth science. Sited on the boundary between two tectonic plates, New Zealand is a natural laboratory for the study of earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Compared with other developed countries, the amount spent on research is low, and a high proportion comes from the government.

Developing research organisations

James Hector was the first professional scientist employed by the government. In the late 1860s he set up the New Zealand Geological Survey, the Colonial Museum and the New Zealand Institute. From 1868 he edited the annual Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.

By 1880 there were museums in the four main centres. They were run by scientists and became the main scientific organisations where information could be found on biological, agricultural and geological issues.

In 1926 the government set up the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). By 1976 the DSIR had over 2,000 staff. Its work included researching the natural environment, developing better plant varieties and providing scientific advice to industry. In 1992 the DSIR was replaced by Crown research institutes.

Universities

Little research was done in New Zealand universities until the 1960s, when research-based PhDs began to be awarded. Since 2003 universities have received research funding based on their research performance.

Government organisations

In 1992, 10 Crown research institutes were set up to research areas of science that are important to New Zealand. In 2014 there were seven, including AgResearch (agricultural research), NIWA (ocean and atmospheric science) and Plant and Food Research. The Natural Hazards Research Platform coordinated research to increase resilience to natural hazards. Callaghan Innovation was set up in 2013 to encourage commercial use of research and technology.

Associations

There are a number of research associations focusing on particular industries. Private associations include the Cawthron Institute, which researches aquaculture and freshwater ecology, and the Malaghan Institute, which focuses on cures for diseases. Private consultants also undertake research.

Scientific societies and museums

There are about 60 scientific and technological societies that coordinate and promote research. The Royal Society of New Zealand (formerly the New Zealand Institute) publishes journals and promotes scientific research. Museums also have research staff.

How to cite this page:

Simon Nathan, 'Research institutions', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/research-institutions (accessed 21 January 2018)

Story by Simon Nathan, published 22 Oct 2014