Prime Minister Kaja Kallas thanked the members of the Research and Development Council for their contribution in moving towards smarter economy. “The most distinctive mark left by the current composition of the Research and Development Council is the application of the results of innovation and research in government discussions and the adoption of resolutions. The fact that the recommendations adopted during the last meetings of the council help the state in distributing additional funding is also noteworthy – thanks to the government’s decision, the state funding of research and development will increase to 1% of the GDP.” The Prime Minister expressed hope that the council’s new composition will be even more efficient in supporting the knowledge transfer in private and public sectors, which is required for accelerating climate and digital transformation.
The current composition of the Research and Development Council took initiative to ensure the more balanced distribution of the research grants of the Estonian Research Council, guaranteeing equal basic funding for all fields of research and taking into consideration the number and quality of applications when distributing the remaining part. The members of the council have provided valuable input to the new Research and Development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Plan 2021-2035. For the first time, this development document brought together the objectives and lines of action related to research and development, innovation and business development.
During its last meeting, the Research and Development Council made a proposal to the government for the competition-based distribution of the extra funding for the research-based development of sectoral policies. The meeting also involved an introduction of the baselines of the Ministry of Education and Research for funnelling extra funding in higher education and an assessment of the Council of Rectors of the possible changes in the funding of higher education. The topic should be discussed in the government and the parliament in late autumn.
According to Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna, it is crucial to acknowledge that there is an urgent need for additional funding in order to ensure high-quality higher education. “Estonian higher education has been underfunded for years,” admitted Minister Kersna. “The salaries of many lecturers are lagging behind the salaries of school teachers and ensuring the next generation of lecturers is becoming an increasingly serious issue. It is not only a matter of funds, but also the content and quality of education.” Additional funding opportunities that could be introduced in the near future and without changing the Higher Education Act would be primarily aimed at working people. For instance, universities have begun to offer micro-degrees as continuing training. Universities have the right to request reimbursement of teaching expenses of part-time Estonian-language curricula. “At the same time, the number of state-paid places must not be significantly limited in order to offer part-time study, and the quality standards applied to full-time and part-time programmes must be the same,” Minister Kersna remarked.
Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt introduced to the Research and Development Council the concept of Innovative Estonia developed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, which constitutes an expansion of the idea of a future financial facility set forth in the coalition agreement, which the ministry uses to seek solutions for problems hindering economic development and possibilities for accelerating the growth of research-intensive economy. “Our main goal is to develop from a digital state into an innovation leader. The more innovation capacity our economy has, the more profitable jobs are created and the smaller the pressure to introduce new taxes will be,” said Minister Sutt. According to the minister, the keywords of the concept are much larger investments in innovation and research-heavy development and a well-run country that attracts investments and talent. “We will use our international ambition, the courage to take risks and the rapidly grown local capital in order to exceed the European Union average in terms of wealth this decade,” said Sutt. Work on this concept continues.
The new composition of the council convenes for its first meeting on 23 November. The government should approve the new composition and the statutes in October.