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Tarmo Soomere: R&D funding hitting 1 percent of GDP start of a new era

Tarmo Soomere.
Tarmo Soomere. Source: ERR

President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere said that Estonia hiking research and development funding to 1 percent of GDP is the start of a new era for the country. According to Soomere, the first place that could use additional funding is training.

Soomere said on the "Esimene stuudio" talk show that R&D funding growing to 1 percent of GDP is a sign of a mature state and constitutes a paradigm shift.

"It is the greatest paradigm shift since we decided to join NATO. Back then, a social contract was achieved that our defense spending would be 2 percent of GDP and not a penny less. When it comes to funding for the sciences, we have been living inside a different paradigm for the past decade – that there is no money nor will there be. Now, we have entered an era where this funding has been fixed similarly to defense spending. It is 1 percent of GDP and the matter is no longer subject to political debates – it is a social contract transcending all political forces. The start of a new era," Soomere said.

Sciences funding being hiked to 1 percent of the gross domestic product means an additional €56 million for the field next year. Soomere said that training is the first place where money is needed.

"I am fond of Ernst Friedrich Schumacher's 'Small is Beautiful' concept according to which natural resources are not a source of income but rather constitute core capital. Scientific know-how and researchers also constitute core capital. Society lives and grows and thrives based on the percentages therein. If we cannot properly reproduce it, there will come a time when we will have spent our core capital that would force us to give up on certain businesses," the academician explained.

Soomere said that the coronavirus crisis helped boost R&D funding by demonstrating that science really is necessary in everyday life.

"If we are attacked by something we cannot see, cannot crush with our fingernail or shoot with a cannon, we need people who know what it is and how to fight it – or if it is possible to fight it at all. Perhaps only people whose bodies know how to take advantage of the coronavirus will survive," he said.

The academy president also said that the meeting points of science, society and the state were unorganized until recently. Relevant organization also helped to increase R&D funding.

"We need people who allocate funds, those who give advice, people who pursue lobby efforts and those who protest. We got that structure working a year and a half or two years ago. Before that, it was virtually impossible to make sure scientists' messages would reach the rulers in more or less undistorted form and come back again. That is the result of organization," he said.

Soomere pointed out that the way research is funded has also changed over the years.

"To exaggerate a little, the situation a few decades ago was that of a scientist working in one room, with an engineer working in another and an inventor between them. The three of them developed a cool product and the factory two blocks away manufactured and sold it. All three were paid using money from the sale," he said.

"Today, things are different – scientists cast their findings into an ocean through scientific publications and people sitting on the beach on the other side of that ocean fish out those ideas to make a cool product. The rest is the same, except scientists are funded using tax revenue, not sales revenue. And this gives the state the moral right to have a say in what should be pursued as it functions as a manifestation of society's structure, while society has the right to know what scientists have received, what they have done and how our common prosperity has benefited," the academician explained.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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