Directing research and development activities according to the state’s interests is not going well

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TALLINN, 21 March 2012 – Estonian researchers have been increasingly more successful in publishing their work and applying for grants on the international scale. However, stating what the interests of Estonia in research and development are has been a struggle for the state. More than one hundred million euros is thus spent from the state budget every year, but it the benefits this brings to the state or the manner in which it supports the development of our society and economy remain unclear.

When the research and development strategy of Estonia was prepared, it was decided that national programmes will be launched in areas of key technologies and in other areas that are important for the state in terms of the state’s socioeconomic and cultural development. There were plans to launch six national programmes (biotechnology, energy technology, materials technology, environmental protection and technology, healthcare and ICT technology programmes). National programmes should help the problems that are important for Estonia and stimulate the development of areas that create higher added value and productivity. In its audit, the National Audit Office took a look at how ministries have managed to carry out these programmes.

Most of the national programmes that should be the main measures in carrying our priorities were only approved in the last days of 2011. The programmes completed the earliest were the energy technology programme (approved in December 2008) and the biotechnology programme (approved in December 2009). The decision made in materials technology, which has been a priority since 2002, was to basically not have a programme at all and to opt for a preliminary programme instead. This means that the planned money will be spent, but not specific results are expected.

The Ministry of Education and Research, however, started distributing the money planned for the programmes even before the Research and Development Council and the Government of the Republic had officially approved the programmes. This shows that the money was dished out even before the state’s interests in these areas were clarified.

Although about a half of the research and development activities financed by the state do belong to the key areas, only one-fifth of researchers work in these areas. Doctoral studies are also unable to guarantee enough fresh blood and grants for international researcher exchange are not competitive in comparison to many other countries. The National Audit Office believes that developing such broad key areas as priorities for the state is beyond the state both financially and administratively. Preferring key areas without a clear goal also puts other areas of research in an unfavourable position for no good reason.

Although nationally programmes are predominantly financed with European Union grants, there is very little time left for launching them before the end of the programme period. Director of Audit of the Performance Audit Department Tarmo Olgo pointed out that piling expenses to the end of the financing period may lead to rushing and overburdening researchers with work. “This may shift the focus on just spending the money rather than creating new knowledge and added value,” said Olgo.
The audit of the National Audit Office indicated that not enough attention has been given to the evaluation of the results of research and development when money was distributed. Objectives and indicators are too general, and there are also indicators for which no information is gathered. It is not always possible to create links between the activities supported by the state and the expected results. The initial level in respect of which any progress could be measures has not been determined for several measurable indicators. According to the auditees, it is still too early to evaluate the state’s impact on the development of key areas. “In reality, the state hasn’t even created the prerequisites that would allow it to evaluate the impact of its activities and add up that money that has been spent,” emphasised Olgo.

Background
According to Statistics Estonia, 232.76 million euros (3.64 billion kroons) was spent on research and development in Estonia in 2010, which comprised 1.63 of the gross domestic product. 102.76 million euros was allocated to research and development from the state budget. These costs are probably bigger, but there is no adequate overview of how much money has been allocated to research and development from the state budget.

54.6 million euros are planned for the direct expenses of the national programmes aimed at the development of key areas. Activities in key areas of research and development are also supported from many other sources of financing.

The main indicators given in the strategy “Knowledge-Based Estonia” (share of research and development expenses in GDP, share of sales revenue generated by new products and services, use of employees in high-tech and medium-high-tech sectors, and the increase in the productivity of companies) will probably not be met by 2013 if the current development continues. The target levels will probably be achieved regarding the share of researchers and engineers, patents, and the share of the innovation investments of companies. The anticipated number of publications has already been exceeded.


Toomas Mattson
Head of Communication Service
640 0777
513 4900
toomas.mattson@riigikontroll.ee
 

  • Posted: 3/21/2012 8:52 AM
  • Last Update: 11/10/2015 5:37 PM
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