Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna and the Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt met the leaders and top scientists of the University of Tartu to discuss the long-term plans of the Estonian higher education and the universities’ role as supporters of the development of high value-added economy.
At the meeting held at the Delta centre of the University of Tartu, Rector Professor Toomas Asser noted that Estonia is facing the implementation the digital and green transition, and that supporting the fields of science in which the necessary solutions are developed may bring immediate benefit to the state. “For example, a number of research areas at the University of Tartu concern health, the enhancement of bioresources, hydrogen energy and digitisation. It is essential to develop these projects to meet the country’s strategic goals and tackle the ever escalating societal challenges. Moreover, several of the developments need just one last push to reach widespread use,” Asser said.
“I am happy to see, together with the Minister of Education and Research, how much potential our universities hold that can be harnessed for the innovation turn. Therefore, it is very important to find effective solutions for cooperation between universities and companies that would create new opportunities in industry and high technology,” said Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt.
Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna said she was pleased to see how the large-scale investments made in strengthening the research capacity are bearing fruit. “The University of Tartu has world-class capacity to address the challenges faced by society and hopefully, we will soon see the practical applications in our everyday lives,” said Kersna. “Understandably, also people with relevant skills are needed to make big changes such as the digital and green turn. We must keep all the flagships of our science, be it people, institutions or networks,” she added.
Toomas Asser acknowledged that the government’s recently approved state budget strategy keeps research and development investments at 1% of the GDP, which is extremely important to balance the considerable decline in research funding in the European Union’s new external support period (2021–2027). For example, in the new period, the support from research structural funds will be directed to smart specialisation areas and the funding of basic research and research infrastructures will be limited. However, to foster innovation and research and development in enterprises, it is essential to also have the respective basic science and the necessary equipment and infrastructure. These investments will not be supported by structural funds in the future and it is therefore important to prepare sustainable solutions supported by the state budget.
The prerequisite for the development of Estonian society is the availability of sufficient and appropriately skilled workforce. The central focus of the discussions with ministers was the availability of research-based higher education and the flexible ways of acquiring additional skills. Vice Rector for Academic Affairs of the University of Tartu, Aune Valk gave an overview of the university’s major changes related to teaching and studies over the last five years and the plans for the near future. According to Valk, in the current situation of underfunding, all possibilities of external support should be used to develop higher education in the coming years, so we could ensure the education of teachers and professionals with a PhD, expand the possibilities of e-learning and recruit talents from foreign countries to the labour market. Universities should also be given an opportunity to offer flexible learning opportunities to adults for a fee.
Valk pointed out that it is no longer possible to postpone discussions on how the state would ensure the funding of higher education at an internationally competitive level in the long term. In fact, the last five years have shown that higher education funding remains twice below the growth in average wages and the GDP, and our gap in comparison with other countries is widening.
Besides the Delta centre, the ministers visited the Institute of Genomics of the University of Tartu, where they were familiarised with the plan of setting up a data accelerator at the biobank, as well as the personalised medicine project and the DNA analysis lab. In the lab, the genotyping of the DNA samples of gene donors is performed, and it is also possible to carry out the sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus there to identify the different strains. In Chemicum, Professor of Physical Chemistry Enn Lust introduced the hydrogen energy and fuel cells projects.
Further information: Toomas Asser, Rector of the University of Tartu, +372 516 6849, +372 737 5601, toomas.asser [ät] ut.ee