Audit Office: State's R&D Efforts Off-Target
The government has done a poor job of focusing its research and development efforts on areas that have a clear benefit to the country, a study by the National Audit Office has concluded.
"More than one hundred million euros is […] spent from the state budget every year [on research and development], but the benefits this brings to the state or the manner in which it supports the development of our society and economy remain unclear," the office said in a March 21 release.
In its recent audit, the office looked at how ministries had carried out national research programs in light of the Estonian Research and Development and Innovation Strategy 2007-2013, which named six areas of focus for the government's efforts: biotechnology, energy technology, materials technology, environmental protection, healthcare and ICT.
It found that about half of state-financed research and development activities fit into these key areas, but only about one-fifth of researchers were working in them.
Moreover, it criticized the state's fundamental strategy, saying that the priority areas it chose were so broad that they were "beyond the state both financially and administratively."
"Preferring key areas without a clear goal also puts other areas of research in an unfavorable position for no good reason," the Audit Office added.
It also faulted the state for not having a method of evaluating the impact of its programs.
Reacting to the findings, Deputy Secretary General Andres Koppel of the Ministry of Education and Research said that the Audit Office's findings didn't paint an accurate picture of the nation's research and development system as a whole, because the agency focused its study only on government-funded programs.
In a statement, he also said that many programs were started only recently and therefore their long-term effects had yet to be felt.
"Therefore, it is difficult to accept the very highly-generalized argument that a lot of money is being spent from the state budget, but that it is not clear what benefit it is bringing to the Estonian state or how it is contributing to our social and economic development," he said.
Quoting data from Statistics Estonia, the Audit Office said that a total of 232.76 million euros was spent on research and development in Estonia in 2010, a figure equivalent to 1.63 percent of the gross domestic product. That year, 102.76 million euros was allocated to research and development from the state budget, it said.