Less Spanners in the Works and More Smart Science
This time, the Riigikogu Toimetised panel brought together representatives of five Riigikogu factions to discuss Estonia’s economic development on 4 April. The panel was made up of Maris Lauri (Reform Party), Liisa Oviir (Social Democratic Party), Raivo Põldaru (Conservative People’s Party), Erki Savisaar (Centre Party), and Sven Sester (Pro Patria and Res Publica Union).
Sven Sester: I believe that for a good while Estonia has been on a course that will take us from a lowly sub-contractor to the group of countries that provide higher added value. And if we look at what the government has done to stop this from remaining empty words, I believe that their actions have essentially been correct. If we want to make it in the global community, it is obvious that we cannot count on logic-defying domestic consumption. We have had an agreement across the party lines that one day we would achieve 1 per cent of the GDP contribution to research activities. If we direct money into research activities through the cooperation of researchers and businesses, this is very likely to lead us to improved productivity.
Erki Savisaar: Estonia’s strength must lie in smartness. We are small but quick to adapt, and I believe that we could indeed occupy the niche of making very nice things – even luxury goods, if you like – rather than mass produced goods. Estonia could naturally contribute more in the fields of ICT, robotics, and artificial intelligence. This field still has not advanced particularly far elsewhere in the world. We are on this train and could even pull one part of it, if we contribute together.
But if we ask why the progress has not been quick enough, I think that the problem is cooperation. Instead of different businesses trying to improve the productivity of the sector together and entering foreign markets, they tend to compete with one another. There is quite a lot of buying each other out or throwing spanners in the works.
Liisa Oviir: Maybe we should very clearly take the direction which the Tiger Leap programme and others have made quite natural to us: I am talking about ICT robotics. Just like we started with ICT, the path from it naturally leads us to robotics and artificial intelligence. There will inevitably be changes if you force them [universities, businesses, etc.] to come with you. A great many things will not happen by themselves. I think that universities or research institutions should only receive funding if they can prove that a project is not started only because a PhD student wants something to study, but that this study also has an actual client and an impact on real economy.
Maris Lauri: The concept of smart specialisation actually involves a dilemma. On the one hand, it makes sense to invest, use or direct the small existing resources to where you are successful and strong. On the other hand, you always run a risk when you specialise on a very narrow field, because the global economy is extremely dynamic and changes can come at a very high speed, and you might consequently find yourself in a very sorry state in the blink of an eye. This is why we must choose a sensible balance. Ideally, research could be given 2 per cent of the GDP, but we must achieve this step by step. When the businesses see that the government is investing where they can also reap the benefits, in a little while they will start to add to it, and this starts the growth. This growth will definitely not become visible in one or two years, but in three or four.
Raivo Põldaru: Our private businesses invest around 0.7 per cent of the GDP into innovation, while the corresponding number around Europe is 1.3 per cent. I believe that these amounts will soon grow because the private sector can no longer function otherwise. And maybe we would need to reorganise the education system from the lowest levels up, and not just the higher levels. Because today very many students drop out of vocational education already during the first year. This means that they have received wrong career counselling or made overall wrong choices at the crucial points in their lives. Today, production methods and life change more rapidly than education can keep up with. Talking about clusters, maybe political parties and national politicians should cooperate much more and dedicate themselves to ensuring that the Republic of Estonia continues, and continues in a way that makes our people happy to live here.