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National Brain Drain

Written By: - Date published: 10:23 am, September 12th, 2011 - 47 comments
Categories: science, wages - Tags:

I heard John Key talking at the Auckland North Shore Business awards a little over a week ago, and he was talking about how important R&D was to New Zealand, and how we needed to increase it. It was one of a number of comments that diverged significantly from the National government’s actions during his speech (he also said a CBD rail-loop was likely, despite the main road-block being Steven Joyce).

National have cut government R&D budgets. They cut the Labour Fast Forward Fund to boost agricultural science. They got rid of Labour’s R&D tax credits.

And then they wonder why we’re not increasing our private sector research investment from 1/3 the OECD average.

The latest result is 560 of our top brains declaring that they’re likely to have to head overseas.

They recognise that NZ has invested a lot in them. They want to stay here. But the jobs aren’t here for them, and in fact jobs are being cut from under them.

How is this New Zealand’s Brighter Future?

We need a government that cares about R&D and wants to create high-value, high-wage jobs for New Zealand.  Jobs that will give New Zealanders the incomes they need.

And an innovative New Zealand to lead the world in the 21st century – instead of just aiming to be a fast follower.

Although this post should be covered by the opinion section of electoral law and shouldn’t need authorisation, here’s mine anyway, just to be safe:
Authorised by Ben Clark, 54 Aramoana Ave, Devonport

47 comments on “National Brain Drain ”

  1. tc 1

    And in an environment slanted to the employer where tradespeople who qualify are not given their qualified minimum wage and told….’what’cha gunna do about it’.
    They leave for an environment where workers rights are protected, he’s now in Oz and lost to the NZ building industry.
    Spoke to a builder on the weekend who said there’s also alot of oversights/shortcuts to ‘certify’ industry folk for chch rebuild….ah that brighter skills filled future.

  2. Bill 2

    What’s a ‘high value’ job? Who determines that ‘value’? And if (as I suspect) ‘high value’ means ‘a job requiring specialist knowledge or expertise, then what happens to the bulk of workers, their relative position in society and their wages?

    • Blighty 2.1

      I don’t think anyone wouldn’t argue that a more prosperous society is one in which we produce more (value) for unit of input (eg labour)

      • prism 2.1.1

        Blighty Eh? What has productivity per unit of labour got to do with being a prosperous society? That’s a catchcry of the right – one of those meaningless slogans that people can’t pin down in physical terms and conceptual terms can be vague as those using it know what they mean but no-one else can read their minds.
        Unless the workers are paid a decent wage and on top of that share in the increase value because of the increased prodictivity we still end up with a wealthy upper class and a bunch of serfs with a smaller number of middle managers and skilled people trying to hold their place in the middle class.

        • In Vino Veritas 2.1.1.1

          Good one Prism. And “a decent wage” is the catchcry of the left. Of course you cant put a number to it, so it’ll remain pie in the sky, sort of like Labours tax policy slogan “a fair share”. Never any line in the sand.
          From your comment, I’d imagine your knowledge of business and how it works could be written on the back of a postage stamp with a very thick felt tip marker.

          • prism 2.1.1.1.1

            @In Vino Veritas – The last time I read your comment I thought that you needed more wine before revelation hit you and I still think that. I give you the John Cleese argument diploma.

      • marsman 2.1.2

        NZ’s productivity has risen but over the last 30 years most of the prosperity resulting from that increase has gone into the pockets of the owners/managers who employ the low paid workforce.

    • Ben Clark 2.2

      Hi Bill,

      A high-value job is one that pays well. Which to an extent is one that can afford to pay well. That may require some skill or specialist knowledge, but there’s no reason the bulk of workers can’t be doing higher-value work – particularly if employers invest in productivity-increasing equipment.

      So creating good jobs for skilled people doesn’t need to leave the rest of society behind. Indeed if it brings more money into the country, it should increase the amount that’s available to be paid to currently lower-wage workers.

      • Bill 2.2.1

        “A high-value job is one that pays well.”

        Okay. So ‘value’ is defined simply in terms of monetary compensation in this instance ie, a high value job is simply a well paying job. So a toilet cleaner would be doing a ‘high value’ job if only they were paid more? But the reason toilet cleaners and others aren’t paid more is because workers and their wages are seen as liabilities whose effects on profit levels must be ameliorated.

        So, care to explain how R&D will rectify the situation whereby employers gain ever greater profit at the direct expense of workers?

        I’m all in favour of R&D by the way. But the fluffy vacuous jargon like ‘high value’ that characterises the supposed flow on benefits simply reminds me of all that nonsense we were subjected to when developing a ‘knowledge economy’ (whatever that wooly fluff might have meant) was all the rage.

        If R&D was to produce techniques or ideas that could be translated into some manufacturing context, why would any reciprients of said ideas or techniques not base their operations in a low wage overseas environment as they do at present?

        Or is the plan to ‘lead the world’ in selling ideas and techniques and wait for some mystical trickle down effect to lift the wages of the toilet cleaners?

        • mik e 2.2.1.1

          By increasing the number of better paid jobs in general so employers have to pay higher wages to keep staff.

          • Bill 2.2.1.1.1

            But what’s that got to do with a magic R&D wand?

            Increasing levels of employment (by any of a number of means) and increasing the min wage would achieve that scenario.

            How does investment in R&D achieve that end? How many jobs is it envisaged would be created? And even if those particular jobs are high paying, how does that translate into ‘better paid jobs in general’?

            • Ben Clark 2.2.1.1.1.1

              The magic R&D wand isn’t going to solve every problem.

              It’s about growing a bigger pie, which we need to do if we want to ‘catch Aussie incomes’. We can’t do it by more farming, if we want our environment not to be completely destroyed.

              There’s a separate issue about making sure that the pie is better distributed than it is now (see Capital Gains Tax, 39% top rate, first $100/week tax free, GST off fresh fruit & vege, $15 minimum wage). Plenty of academic research shows how important greater income equality is.

              That R&D is likely to help with climate change issues as well. And increase productivity in other sectors. So it flows through to a lot of things.

              (How many jobs? Nokia alone gained several thousand through Finland making R&D a priority. How do those high-paying jobs translate into better paid jobs in general? If I invent a better widget at my company that makes millions, hopefully they can afford to give everyone, cleaners included, a raise – not just me)

              • Draco T Bastard

                It’s about growing a bigger pie…

                Growth – the sure-fire way to societal collapse.

                • Blue

                  So your answer to increasing salaries and skills is a ‘contracting’ economy as opposed to one which grows? – and you call the right economically illiterate. Funny stuff.

              • Bill

                Aw c’mon Ben!

                Skipping past your unreconstituted neo liberal ‘big pie’ analogy that will somehow materialise at no environmental cost in a finite world…and allowing you to duck any notion that we simply redistribute what we already have to achieve pay parity with Australia…

                …so we’re looking at a couple of thousand jobs tops. Nothing wrong with that. As I said, I’m all for R&D.

                But that’s all it is, isn’t it? It more or less begins and ends there because, as I said previously, manufacturing will tend to locate in a low wage economy over seas just as it does now. (eg F&P had and have R&D located here… at least for the time being. All the NZ manufacturing capabilities were shut down thoough in spite of their R&D record. And Haier could pull the plug on it’s NZ R&D unit at a moments notice.)

                So again. Please explain to me how R&D has a positive knock on effect in terms of general job creation. The truth is that in a particular instance it might, but that’s far from a given and the result could just as easily be zero new jobs, or even redundancies, no?

                Meanwhile, to claim that an employee coming up with an innovative idea, solution or whatever in the context of an already existing production environment might lead to a wage increase for all employees within that company is, to say the least, ludicrously niaive. The individual employee may well receive some form of reward from the boss or bosses (assuming another employee doesn’t sucessfully claim the credit!) But aside from that, profit margins increase leading (perhaps) to a higher dividend for shareholders. End.

                That’s how it generally pans out in the real world.

                The company cleans up. The cleaner remains on a paltry income. And one or two line workers become surplus to requirements thanks to ‘the widget’.

                • lprent

                  Ummm I can probably as well as Ben can bearing in mind both of us work around this area. Of course I’m probably somewhat less polite than Ben would be (he is nice, I am not).

                  NZ definitely isn’t the place to do mass manufacturing – it is relatively noncompetitive when there are few advantages to overcome the freight costs, the scale of the local market, and that other countries only really require capital and/or labour to get into it . But IMHO – who in the hell wants it anyway?

                  Placing people like zombies on a production line is something that we as a species really don’t like doing. I’ve been around a few large production lines doing operations and production management work and as far as I’m concerned they are rather horrendous places to be. The sooner we ramp up the robotics to stop using people as machines the happier I will be. Machines are good at repetitive mindless processes and people are not. People however are really really good at doing tasks that change all of the time, markedly adept at handling people, and some are really good at being innovative. Those are their strengths.

                  So if there is manufacturing then ideally it should be small scale targeted to vertical markets world wide and based heavily on R&D and knowledge of a particular market. The production runs are too damn small to automate and short enough that people working in manufacture get to do new things all of the time. This is essentially the German manufacturing model of smallish firms selling expertise to the world, and doing very well out of it even in a world wide recession.

                  In fact this is exactly the manufacturing environment that both I and Ben currently work in. Both of us are on the development side, but the intellectual property we produce keeps a pile of manufacturing jobs in NZ in small scale runs and extensive prototyping. It is far too much of a pain to setup a production run in China or elsewhere.

                  There is a pretty large engineering manufacturing market in NZ for exactly this type of market and it is growing quite rapidly. The problem is that it has capital/startup issues to develop and get to market. The R&D support in NZ doesn’t exactly induce people to stay here at present.

                  • Bill

                    An answer that starts to make some sense. Finally. Thankyou.

                    • Maynard J

                      Jobs don’t create themselves, so for many workers R & D is generally the difference between not having a job, and having a job. The latter is generally preferable. Research -> company opens -> people work in said company. This happens on a smaller scale as well as a large scale. These jobs generally pay more than Maccas or Pak n Save, so they help your average worker.

                    • Bill

                      Okay, so let me see if I’ve got this. Private companies aren’t investing in research or development and so run the risk of ‘withering on the vine’. And tax breaks, rather than the threat of going out of business are the incentive they need?

                      I’d have thought any company involved in a changing manufacturing environment would assign a proportion of turnover to R&D as a matter of course and regardless of any tax break. And if business conditions showed they weren’t assigning enough, that they’d assign more ie take a short term cut in profits.

                      On the other hand, Maynard J, you seem to be suggesting that government undertakes R&D that will, at least in some cases, offer opportunities to the private sector to create companies/jobs. In other words a massive public subsidy to a small number of ‘correctly positioned’ private individuals/ companies, ie the public takes the risk and bears the cost while the private sector takes the benefits. (I could see the likes of Fontera being keen)

                      Hmm. Thinking, y-nah. I can’t really see what the general public or workers in general get out of either of those deals. I mean, the government might be able to turn around and say ‘Look at us (NZ) – world leaders in x, y or z’.

                      But in the same way that NZ are world leaders in dairy, the fact remains that the general public and workers and general get nothing out of it.

                      But maybe I’m missing something?

                  • In Vino Veritas

                    Nice work IP. I would point out that R & D work needs to have an ultimate market, and having had some involvement in writing off many millions of dollars of failed R & D work, too many NZ’rs expect to just show up, get funded, and research and develop something that no-body wants, or can’t ultimately be utilised for whatever reason. It’s a high risk area and certainly isn’t something that any Government should be significantly involved in.
                    I’d also say that scientists in particular, have been leaving NZ since time immemorial, just because the US and Europe is where the funding capital is. So the so called “brain drain” has been occuring for years. If it’s increased, its more than likely because there are more graduates who need to find work. Animal and food chain science doesnt cut it for everyone!

  3. insider 3

    Our ‘top brains’ have always headed off overseas no matter who the government is. ANd universities have always complained that they don’t get enough money. Has anything really changed with the change of govt?

    The reality is we are never going to retain talent in highly specialised fields where people want to do leading edge work that is not done in NZ. Our varsities are not, by and large, going to offer that in areas such as IT, physics, biochem, pharma etc. So people going offshore to gain greater expertise is not something to complain about, because we could never meet their research needs. We should be celebrating they want to do that work and are considered good enough to get places at specialist universities. The system needs to do a good standard of work and be flexible enough to allow specialities in areas where we can gain an advantage, but not pretend we are going to match the global best in all subjects.

    • r0b 3.1

      Our ‘top brains’ have always headed off overseas no matter who the government is. ANd universities have always complained that they don’t get enough money. Has anything really changed with the change of govt?

      Yes.

      • aerobubble 3.1.1

        Sorry, didn’t you hear him, people always whine about money, and highflyers always
        leave this shore, and he’s damnit not going to be aparty to any change in the outcome.
        National is a party of stage managing the hollowing out of the economy.
        29 died in a mine, 127 died in the Earthquake mostly in one building, leaky
        homes abound, its too late for all those people who lost their homes, their
        lives, their loved ones, and it will always be too late since people will
        whine about the cost and the brains will leave anyway.
        In a few years National will remove resource consent and new homes
        will go up on liquifable sands, and leak, or a mine disaster will kill someone,
        some other big idea to make savings.
        because its too complex, it cost to much, they always want more money and
        the brains are overseas and too expensive.

        • In Vino Veritas 3.1.1.1

          Poor old aero. The mine was built with a unescapable 2km entrance tunnel because Labour wouldnt consent it closer. Houses were built on liquifiable sand and leaked under Labour. Buildings were built under Labour that wouldnt stand a 7 quake.

    • alex 3.2

      We should be playing to our strengths more and encouraging Green jobs within the country, we have a massive amount of natural resources which if effectively managed could be used permanently and sustainably, and those would be jobs that could only be done in NZ, stopping the brain drain in some fields.

      • aerobubble 3.2.1

        We don’t have the modern tax regime in NZ that promotes investment by locals for locals.
        And why get paid in the south pacific peso.

    • mik e 3.3

      Outslider your broad generalization is just an apology for this governments cutting of R&D and lower funding per student ratio’s that are down grading our universities and our future wealth creation.All growing economies have increased significantly the amount they spend on education and innovation .National has cut and cut and scared away some of our finest research scientists especially in agriculture.As Rod Oram has time and time again told us we need to make more out of what we do well .National as per usual just put bandaids on gaping wounds and spin their way out of no action . That is why we are falling behind Australia .Pity they can’t use that skill and money fix the problem of helter skelter funding for R&D WE need consistent long term funding and support not willie nillie National

  4. belladonna 4

    I suspect the unemployment statistics would look quite different if the numbers departing New Zealand were also taken into consideration.

    • aerobubble 4.1

      Yes. And then take a look at how many commit suicide after being denied the benefit.
      Youth suicide, any suicide, requires a bleak outlook. And what an outlook we have
      given ourselves.

  5. ChrisH 5

    I don’t agree with National’s policies but I’m going to vote for that nice Mr Key !

    • Carol 5.1

      Do you live in Helensville, then?

    • mik e 5.2

      ChrisH so your going to close the gap with Portugal Iceland Ireland Italy Grease and Spain. Instaed of Australia.

    • tc 5.3

      Yes let’s all vote for the nice man who fronts a party bereft of vision/plan/integrity/honesty and pile our dough into the nearest pyramid scheme we can find while we’re at it…..isn’t it great to be a leeming.

      • Carol 5.3.1

        The only way anyone can vote for John Key is if they are in his Helensville electorate. Otherwise they are voting for Key’s party and its policies. We have a parliamentary system, not a presidential one… though JK is a bit of a POTUS wannabe.

        • Redbaron77 5.3.1.1

          I think ChrisH was making an oblique comment about apparent political fog voter’s appear to be caught up in …

  6. Anthony 6

    The petition seems to be a bit of BS, anyone worth their salt generally wants to do post doc overseas anyway (anecdotal of course).

    Bigger pond, more to learn, access to more conferences, working at a top ranked European university etc etc. It’s kind of like a rite of passage, much like the academics OE.

    Doesn’t mean most of us aren’t planning on coming back afterwards.

    • aerobubble 6.1

      LOL. To what? Retire? Return to a university position in NZ? Our universities
      are not that highly regarded, I think Auckland is in the top 200. The same
      rule applies we can’t pay them to come, and it shows even in our universities.
      And therein lies the problem with the economy, Denmark can do it, Switizland
      can, so why can’t NZ. It can if it stops importing its policy and its policy
      discussions from the US, and starts import liberal progressive european
      policy designed and implemented in and for small democracies.
      i.e. Don’t vote National if you want a economy run for the people of NZ.

      • Anthony 6.1.1

        I’ll be back to teach and research in NZ because I love this country, its home and my whanau are here – lot of other people are like me too.

        Also ranking schmanking… if your research is solid you still get opportunities, it’s why we have peer review not university ranking review. Personally I didn’t choose this path for kudos or “BIG MONEY”, I did it because I love what I do.

    • Ben Clark 6.2

      Doesn’t mean most of us aren’t planning on coming back afterwards.
      But you’ll probably want a job here when you return, right? And if there aren’t any because things are so badly funded, well…

  7. …he was talking about how important R&D was to New Zealand, and how we needed to increase it.

    As he said when he scrapped all those govt R&D initiatives, he has every confidence that the private sector is willing and able to fund the level of R&D needed – which was either an astonishing display of the ability of NZ journalists to remain poker-faced when being told the most blatant and ridiculous lies, or an equally astonishing display of just how thick our journos are. Bottom line is, no-one laughed in his face.

    • mik e 7.1

      The only private sector organization I’ve seen even speak about the issue , Has been a handful of has been politicians led by Ruth Richardson ,Trying very hard to not look like they are covering up Nationals huge botch up in this area

    • lprent 7.2

      Agreed. I was astonished right up until I realized that journos don’t indulge in anything as useful as export based businesses…

  8. Ianupnorth 8

    I was offered a position at our ‘top’ University (they also allegedly have trains there) and I rejected it because the academic standards well, were quite comical. The learning outcomes for their post graduate work were pitched at the same level as the under graduate programme I had manage in the UK.
    The level of scrutiny within NZ academia, in terms of scrutiny of each others qualifications is, well, suspect, largely because they have a sense of their own self importance.
     
    A colleague who I worked with in the UK (in a Uni that was in the top 20 their – it had more undergraduate students than most NZ towns) asked me

    Do you want to be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond?

    It is very easy to come to NZ, gain a senior academic role, and act like an expert – it is much harder to do that in the UK or Canada, and more difficult than in Aussie than NZ.
     
    There are real opportunities for this country to invest in the really talented individuals that are coming through the system, but the under graduates are in demand globally; unless the country invest in their talent, provides a way for them to prosper here (shit I am sounding like a capitalist now!) they will go where the money is.

  9. Afewknowthetruth 9

    Everything is Orwellian.

    Ignorance is strength, war is peace, freedom is slavery.

    When any politiican talks about the need for increased R&D that is code for curtting R&D funding.

    When any politician talks about growing the economy that is code for transferring a greater portion of the shrinking cake from the have-nots to the haves..

    What a pity Ben is still firmly locked into the idiotic growth delusion, depsite all the evidence that growth is over (due to peak oil) and all the evidence that growth is the problem … environmental collapse and all that.

    As long as we have politicians and budding politiicans demanding destruction of the planet we live on that is exactly what we are going to get.

  10. freedom 10

    At School when the teacher was telling porkies i would put up my hand and patiently wait to be called on. I would wait quite a while sometimes, then the reluctant teacher would call on me with the marvin-esque reservation that only comes from experience of what was to follow. This most often happened in Social History type classes, especially when colonisation was being discussed.

    I would question what was said, The teacher would respond, this would go back and forth a bit and usually had one outcome, i would end up in the hallway. (Sometimes i was actually correct btw, didn’t change the outcome tho) The teacher, rather than admit fault with the material or their application of the material would punish the person who spoke up to question it.

    I witness the same thinking every time i read of events like that ascribed to the recent business meeting.
    “I heard John Key talking at the Auckland North Shore Business awards a little over a week ago, and he was talking about how important R&D was to New Zealand, and how we needed to increase it. It was one of a number of comments that diverged significantly from the National government’s actions during his speech (he also said a CBD rail-loop was likely, despite the main road-block being Steven Joyce).”

    What stopped you from standing up and questioning that which you knew to be false! My bet is it was nothing else but the juvenile fear of being sent into the hall. The prevalent position of most seems to be keep your head down and your wallet protected. The decalration that you listened to the lies and did nothing is a telling example of the oncoming dystopia.

    So you would get kicked out, and your business might suffer, is that more important than constantly letting these parades of political lies continue. Is it more important then the consolidation of regressive policies that are infecting every facet of our populace with selfish and anti-democratic beliefs.

    My tendency to demand honesty from those around me has certainly limited my commercial activities over the years and you are correct in your probable assumption i am not a businessman. I have no International profit to protect, i have no vast empire to consider. I do not have the livelihoods of my employees to function as a conscience for my actions… on that last point i posit that neither do you.

    If these bs events that fill the calendars of our political mouthpieces are not held to account in Public, then it is no surprise that NZ has been progressively sold off to the world. We are constantly told business people are leaders of our communities, I can not recall the last time one actually stood up for reality and confronted the lies of our politicians outside of a formal or predicated format that was only of benefit to their particular industry.

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