University receives $24m for ground-breaking research

Tackling inequality and poverty by understanding New Zealanders’ long-term income mobility is one of eight Victoria University of Wellington-led research projects to receive a total of $24 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Endeavour Fund.

Co-led by Professor John Creedy, from the School of Accounting and Commercial Law in Victoria Business School, and Professor Norman Gemmell, the University’s Chair in Public Finance, also in the School of Accounting and Commercial Law, the three-year University project has been awarded $1 million to investigate why people move into and out of poverty and the probability of their entering or escaping it based on different demographics.

The Endeavour Fund is New Zealand’s largest contestable research fund. Five of the University-led projects—including Professor Creedy’s and Professor Gemmell’s—are in the Smart Ideas category, which aims to catalyse and test promising, innovative research. The other three are in the bigger Research Programme category.

Many of the projects highlight the University’s commitment to, and expertise in, addressing sustainability issues.

Among these, Professor Dave Frame, Director of the University’s New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute in the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, is leading an international multi-institution team that has received more than $10 million for a five-year Research Programme project to better understand and predict extreme weather events and their consequences and costs. The team includes Professor Ilan Noy, Chair in the Economics of Disasters in Victoria Business School’s School of Economics and Finance.

Dr Chris Bumby, a Senior Scientist in the University’s Robinson Research Institute, is leading a trans-Tasman multi-institution team that has received nearly $6.5 million for a five-year Research Programme project to develop new chemical processes to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions during the industrial production of critical metals—iron, steel and vanadium.

Professor Margaret Hyland, the University’s Vice-Provost (Research), welcomed the money for the University, which she says will enable its successful applicants to lead the kind of multi-institution, often multi-country, collaborations for which it is renowned as New Zealand’s number one university for research intensity.

“Thanks to these awards, our researchers can expand their ground-breaking work tackling some of the most important issues of our time, including climate change, health and inequality,” she says.

A three-year Research Programme project awarded more than $2.5 million sees Professor Colin Simpson, Associate Dean–Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Health, co-leading a New Zealand and Scottish team to tackle New Zealand’s critical need for better linking of, and access to, data on social services and wellbeing. Professor Simpson’s co-leader is statistician and social research design expert Andrew Sporle, a founding member of Te Mana Raraunga, the Māori data sovereignty network, with Māori data sovereignty an important element of the project.

Dr Farah Lamiable-Oulaidi is leading a team of colleagues from the University’s Ferrier Research Institute in a three-year Smart Ideas project that has received $1 million to develop a treatment for Krabbe disease, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder that affects one in 100,000 live births in the United States and Europe and leads to death within the first few years of life.

Dr Nathaniel Davis, a Lecturer in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, is leading an international multi-institution team that has received $1 million over three years for a Smart Ideas project to cut the cost of solar energy by developing cheaper, non-toxic, lightweight luminescent solar concentrators (LSC) to funnel more light into photovoltaic cells.

Dr Jeremy Owen, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences, is leading a University team that has received $1 million over three years for a Smart Ideas project to advance New Zealand’s adoption of synthetic biology, a discipline with the potential to transform many industries, from agriculture to fine chemicals and pharmaceutical discovery. The project will develop and implement synthetic biological methods for discovering new antibiotics and insecticides from New Zealand’s vastly underexplored microbial communities. Beyond economic benefits, there is potential to reduce dependence on petrochemicals.

Professor Phil Lester, from the School of Biological Sciences, is leading a multi-institution team that has received $1 million over three years for a Smart Ideas project to achieve what they call the ‘Holy Grail’ of pest management: a next-generation species-specific pesticide bait for the newly arrived but already harmful invasive European ‘paper’ wasp as a template for other species-specific pesticides.

Explaining his and Professor Creedy’s project, which includes partnerships in Australia, the United Kingdom and Belgium, Professor Gemmell says: “Debates about income inequality currently typically focus on annual income measures using cross-sectional ‘snapshot’ comparisons. These can result in misleading conclusions because they necessarily ignore how each individual’s or household’s income moves relative to others over time.

“Wellbeing judgements regarding, say, the poorest 10 percent of the population could be quite different if these are persistently the same people over long periods as opposed to many different people moving in and out of this poverty group.”