Estonian universities struggle to sell their ideas to businesses

The University of Tartu (Postimees/Scanpix)
5/8/2015 4:57 PM
Category: Education

Estonian universities love to flaunt their international successes and the citability of their researchers. But when it comes to applied sciences and the actual benefits brought to the institutions and society at large by researchers, the situation appears far bleaker.

Foreign investors retain low interest towards Estonian higher education institutions, because large corporations remain largely unfamiliar with Estonia as a country, according to University of Tartu's (UT) business professor Urmas Varblane.

“The bigger the corporation, the smaller Estonian universities seem,“ Varblane told ERR. According to him, Estonian universities are grouped together with tens, if not hundreds of similar research institutions worldwide from an entrepreneurial viewpoint.

Varblane thinks that a better solution would be to develop Estonia's own strengths in which to invest, rather than continuously trying to impress on a global scale. "I know of cooperations with Nestle corporation and that UT's physicists worked with Samsung to some extent, but I cannot say for sure how much of that is still ongoing. Regardless, some singular examples remain."

According to the economic expert it is easier to collaborate with international corporations who have already expanded to Estonia or own subsidiaries here. Collaboration on projects is made possible by the professional presence of the company's local representatives. This allows for better communication and more effective lobbying amongst researchers and company leaders.

Varblane also pointed out that such an approach requires flexibility from universities in conducting applied science projects. So far, representatives of many international corporations have noted only fleeting, largely project-based contact with Estonia and its researchers.

Large corporations mostly conduct scientific and developmental research in their own developmental centers or alongside long-term collaborative partners in other countries.

Enn Saar: companies seek swift successes

Director of the major customer segment of Eesti Telekom, Enn Saar, provided some potential examples of how Estonia might pursue development research despite differing interests of academic and entrepreneurial representatives.

"We have to admit that universities are following their own interests when it comes to applied science projects and grants, whilst companies generally have short-term plans in mind, wich do not require extensive developmental research," Saar suggested.

He added that universities should seek to provide simple and clearly defined short-term fixes alongside long-term solutions. "These would aid in building trust in collaborative work whilst providing companies with swift successes," he said.

A. Kaer

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