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University research

Key facts

New Zealand’s eight universities are all research-based institutions in which research is a major output of academic and research-only staff and informs the teaching and learning environment. Research of national and/or international quality and relevance is an expectation of modern universities and of academic staff, who may work alone or alongside postgraduate students and other staff employed on research projects.

University research is vital to New Zealand. It produces new knowledge and disseminates that knowledge through: research- informed teaching that produces knowledgeable graduates; publications that makes knowledge readily available to others; research collaborations with industry, government and others in higher education; public lectures, debates, articles and other forms of media communication that aim to educate and inform the public; consulting services, patents and other intellectual property that are made available to industry on a commercial basis.

Adequate support for a high-quality research culture and infrastructure is essential to enable universities to achieve their purpose and mission. This includes the development of the next generation of researchers and innovators. Universities train and employ the vast majority of New Zealand’s research and development staff. In addition to external grant income, the government supports the underlying research framework in universities and the promotion of high quality research through the Performance-Based Research Fund.

New Zealand’s eight universities spend around $960m annually on research, accounting for 37% of New Zealand’s applied research and 54% of all basic research. Over the past two decades, our universities have placed increased focus on innovation and generate over $500m each year through the commercialisation of university research (about 15% of total university income). The research environment, and the income required to support that environment and research outputs, varies from university to university reflecting differences in disciplines and facilities. e.g. engineering, medical and science-based research might have different needs and resource requirements than does some arts-based research.

For more information, facts and stats, see how universities are Driving Research and Innovation.

Research funding

There are the main sources of research funding used by New Zealand's universities:

Marsden Fund

The Marsden Fund is a contestable fund administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Marsden Fund Council. Marsden Fund research benefits society by contributing to the development of researchers with knowledge, skills and ideas. The research is not subject to government’s socio-economic priorities, but is investigator initiated. The Fund supports research excellence in science, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities. Competition for grants is intense.

The 2016 Budget added $66 million over four years, taking it from $54 million in 2015/16 to $80 million in 2019/20.

Health Research Council (HRC)

The Health Research Council supports research that has the potential to improve health outcomes and the delivery of health care, and to produce economic gain for New Zealand.

HRC allocates the majority of funds through an annual funding round to independent research projects that are researcher initiated. Requests for Proposals are also issued to support research in a particular area. A range of awards are available to support the career development of emerging health researchers, and Māori and Pacific researchers.

Budget 2016 added $97 million over four years to the HRC’s funding, increasing it from $77 million in 2015/16 to $120 million in 2019/20.

Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment

The Ministry administers a number of research funds, including:

Endeavour Fund

This fund, previously known as the Contestable Fund, focuses on longer-term research that has high potential to positively transform New Zealand’s future economic performance, sustainability and integrity of our environment, help strengthen our society, and give effect to Vision Mātauranga.

The fund will increase from $183 million in 2015/16 to $200 million in 2019/20.

Te Punaha Hihiko Vision Matauranga Capability Fund

This Fund was established to grow skills and capacity for Maori participation in science and innovation and support outcomes that benefit New Zealand. 

Catalyst Fund

This Fund supports activities that develop and foster international collaborations.

PreSeed Accelerator Fund

This fund supports early-stage technology commercialisation activities. 

Strategic Science Investment Fund

This Fund will be worth $250 million in 2019/20. The bulk of this fund is for core funding for Crown Research Institutes and independent research organisations and is not accessible by universities.

Further details on MBIE-administered funds can be found on MBIE's website

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