Disturbing processes at Otago University

Submission on Closure of the Centre for Materials Science and Technology (November 14)

I understand that the University of Otago is considering the disestablishment of the Centre for Materials Science and Technology (CMAST), and that in the process this would terminate the Universities’ ability to teach textile and fibre science and technology, and as a consequence all postgraduate research programmes in textiles and fibres.

I am concerned that the University could contemplate such a decision, for the following reasons:

  1. The CMAST capability in textiles and fibres technology and research is unique in New Zealand, and though it is relatively small, CMAST is one of the leading research centres in the OECD.

  2. Textiles and fibres are a huge industry world-wide and growing. I have written about the desirability of CMAST linking with the Deacon University carbon fibre capability, the wool research being undertaken at AgResearch and the Wool Industry Research Limited in Christchurch, and in the natural competitive advantage of linking CMAST technology with the University of Otago’s medical school and developing new technical fibres for medicine. I attach to this letter the textiles and fibres section of my recently published book Innovate!, and I also attach my speaking notes at a 2016 seminar at CMAST to provide background material on these points.

  3. The CMAST, along with the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, are the most obvious and promising research centres in the University of Otago, by far, for the development of new technologies that could catalyse new industrial developments of scale.

  4. The University of Otago should recognise that the science funding regime currently in place together with the PBRF are so disconnected from the real economy that it is inevitable they will be reviewed and reformatted. I assess that research funding will flow increasingly to economically relevant research and technology development, and to centres which can catalyse new industry development as has happened in the UK, Canada and in Australia, in fact generally around the OECD. CMAST is exactly the sort of research centre that would benefit from these changes.

  5. The current situation with CMAST does not reflect on the capability or potential of CMAST but instead reflects in my view on the unwillingness of the University of Otago over some time now to recognise the CMAST ‘as a jewel in its crown’ and to support at the highest level approaches to MBIE for long-term funding to support the development of CMAST and its international connectivity - such as the University of Auckland achieves routinely, and has been achieved recently by the Wool Industry Research group in Christchurch.

The closure of CMAST would in my opinion be a serious mistake not only for the University of Otago but for New Zealand.

Yours sincerely

Richard J Bentley CNZM

BE (Hons), (Civil), M. Commerce, Distinguished Fellow Institution of Professional Engineers NZ, Fellow Institute of Directors

Positions held by the writer in fibre and textiles:

  • Director from June 2001, Chairman from 1 January 2003 until 31 Dec 2007, NZ Institute for Crop and Food Research Limited

  • Member, Business Advisory Board, School of Business, and Member, Advisory Board, Degree of Applied Science at Otago University, 2001 to 2009

  • Chairman, NZX listed Wool Equities Limited, January 2003 to December 2006.

  • Chairman, Canesis Networks Limited (formerly the Wool Research Organisation of NZ), from October 2004 to February 2006.

  • Chairman, Keratec Limited, 2003 to 2004, and from July 2006 to January 2007.

Book reference:

Innovate!, Transforming New Zealand’s technology-based economy, Richard Bentley, Steele Roberts, 2017