New Zealand’s best interests at the CoRE

October 2015


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Education Review discovers a new Centre of Research Excellence tackling some big research issues for the benefit of New Zealand.

Best interests at the CoREEducation Review discovers a new Centre of Research Excellence tackling some big research issues for the benefit of New Zealand.

Te Pūnaha Matatini, a new Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) was launched earlier this year.

Te Pūnaha Matatini means ‘the meeting place of many faces’. It is aptly named, as the new CoRE brings together experts from across New Zealand’s academic research community, industry and government.

Funded by the Tertiary Education Commission, Te Pūnaha Matatini is hosted by The University of Auckland in partnership with the University of Canterbury, Victoria University of Wellington, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, and Massey University. It is led by physicist Professor Shaun Hendy of The University of Auckland.

Hendy believes we live in a “data-rich but knowledge-poor world”.

“Te Pūnaha Matatini will develop new tools for understanding large, complex datasets, and transfer these tools to New Zealand’s business and government sectors for increased productivity and insight.”

Centres of Research Excellence are required to combine internationally significant research programmes with a commitment to developing New Zealand’s human capital, and ability to succeed. Te Pūnaha Matatini is positioned to do just that. It has assembled a diverse, multidisciplinary team to collaborate on transdisciplinary problems and questions of importance to New Zealand and the world.

So far the new CoRE has launched research projects to study innovation networks and indicators in New Zealand, understand the impact of inequality on childhood outcomes, reconcile economic and biological values of our marine food resources, and optimise health care expenditure.

“Just as New Zealand’s economy was transformed by the introduction of the first trans-oceanic shipments of frozen sheep meat in 1882, Te Pūnaha Matatini will look at contemporary supply chain networks, seeking to better understand optimisation of the network infrastructure, essential for New Zealand – a small, export-based economy at the end of the world’s supply chain,” says Hendy.

“It’s exciting to see our team’s vision coming to fruition,” says Kate Hannah, the centre’s executive manager. “We’re working to build the kind of
New Zealand of which we can all be proud.”

Te Pūnaha Matatini is also focused on developing the next generation of researchers. The CoRE says it is training a new type of scientist for the benefit of New Zealand and will offer research projects that develop scientific skills that are relevant to the New Zealand economy, society, and environment. The aim is to equip these students with the business skills and personal networks to enable them to pursue rewarding careers or start their own knowledge-intensive businesses in New Zealand.

Te Pūnaha Matatini has also voiced a commitment to working with Māori communities to develop and understand the role of innovation in enhancing the sustainability of regional economies and communities. The CoRE takes its foundational whakataukī from Sir Apirana Ngāta (1874–1950): “E tipu, e rea, mo ngāra o tau ao – grow up and thrive for the days destined you”.

Societal inequality and human vulnerability – a social assets approach

PROFESSOR PETER DAVIS shares one of the research topics under scrutiny at Te Pūnaha Matatini.

It is widely argued that societal income inequality is causally associated with a wide range of social and health ills; the greater income inequality in a society, the greater and more far-reaching the associated health and social pathologies. Yet New Zealand potentially, and surprisingly, could represent a counter example to this widely accepted hypothesis in the area of infant mortality, since the country has shown a steady trend towards increasing income inequality while at the same time recording a largely unbroken reduction in infant mortality.

Given this somewhat paradoxical finding, we want to determine whether there are non-income assets, resources and networks that may help protect vulnerable populations, particularly children, against the effects of gross inequality. In answering this question, we propose to adopt what we call a social assets approach in which income is seen as just one resource among several that individuals can bring to bear in meeting the challenges of life. We envisage resources like income, health, skills, social infrastructure and relationships, and cultural identity; these provide opportunities for people to succeed in life, particularly at key social transitions (birth, infancy, go to school, stay out of trouble, get work, partner up, raise a family, retire).

We will use the New Zealand Longitudinal Census, supplemented by linkage to other salient national data including the General Social Survey and the Te Kupenga Social Survey. We will be able to follow 600,000 individuals with linked data over the entire period from 1981 to 2013. This project will be of international interest in providing insights into the role that social assets and policy intervention may be able to play in protecting vulnerable populations against the effects of gross inequality.

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