The primary aim of research is to create new knowledge, not only to increase understanding of the world, but also to be applied to the development of new products and processes. New Zealand is part of a global research network, and one strand of its research effort is to adapt overseas developments for the country’s own distinctive needs.
New Zealand is a small player in the research world, but has particular strengths in areas of agriculture, health and earth-science research. Being situated on the boundary between two major tectonic plates, New Zealand is a natural laboratory for the study of phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and ground deformation. For example, the GeoPRISMs project, supported by the US National Science Foundation, is examining processes in subduction zones.
In comparison to other developed countries, the total funding spent on research in New Zealand is low. In 2012 the OECD average spent on research and development was 2.38% of gross domestic product (GDP), whereas in New Zealand it was 1.27% ($2.63 billion), up from 1.15% in 2002. The low figure in part reflects the lack of spending in New Zealand on military research, development of pharmaceuticals and large-scale manufacturing.
Three research sectors
Research in New Zealand is carried out within three sectors: business, government and higher education. Of the total 2012 research and development spend:
- 45.4% was spent by the business sector
- 22.7% was spent by the government sector
- 31.9% was spent by the higher education sector.
An unusually high proportion of research funding comes from the state. The government also contributes to business sector research – 12% of total business expenditure in 2012. Government research funds are mainly allocated through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Health Research Council, the Tertiary Education Commission and the Royal Society of New Zealand (Marsden Fund).
A PhD record
In 2013 the University of Canterbury enrolled 886 PhD students, a university record. The disciplines with the highest number of new enrolments were biological sciences, chemistry, civil and natural resource engineering, education and mechanical engineering. Of the 230 students who started in 2012, 48% were New Zealanders. The remaining students were citizens of 40 different countries, with the largest groups being from India, Malaysia and China.
In 2012 the number of full- and part-time researchers engaged in the government and higher education sectors was 27,700. Of these, 15,500 were postgraduate student researchers. This was a significant increase from 2002, when there was a total of 18,656 researchers, of whom 9,524 were postgraduate students. (The large rise in postgraduate students can be partly attributed to successful government drives to attract overseas PhD students.) The total number of researchers in the business sector in 2012 was 7,200.