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Job vacancy creation not itself goal, says Estonian academic and politician

Jaak Aaviksoo.
Jaak Aaviksoo. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Rector of Tallinn Technical University Jaak Aaviksoo has been critical of the priorities set forth by the Enterprise Estonia. Aaviksoo, who also sits on the 'Foundation for State Reform' think tank, takes a similarly sceptical view of a recent debate on entrepreneurship policy which took place at a meetiing of the Estonian parliament's (Riigikogu) Research and Development Council, of which he is also a member. Talking to ERR's Indrek Kuus, Professor Aaviksoo explains why.

(Indrek Kuus):  You recently posted on social media that "two days ago, Urve Palo, Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, confirmed at the Research and Development Council the commitment to innovation and research and development (R & D), and that now this also seems to be a priority of [state entrepreneuship support body – ed.] Enterprise Estonia. What's going on!". What did you have in mind in particular when making that statement?

(Jaak Aaviksoo): Under the auspices of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, the 26 June convening of the Research and Development Council discussed challenges facing Estonia's economic development, and put forth its support for Urve Palo's proposal to increase the scope of the Ministry of of Economic Affairs and Communications [to which Mrs. Palo's minstership reports – ed.] to support R&D in business, especially in the manufacturing industry.

The discussion took place on the understanding that this is also a very real priority in our business policy. And yet now if you look at the stated priorities of Enterprise Estonia - exports, foreign investment and tourism–you could be forgiven for thinking that those priorities in fact lie elsewhere.

Recent development centre findings unambiguously point out that the growth of productivity in Estonia has been slowed in particular due to the very modest investment in human resources and research and development. Unfortunately, without a clear and coherent business policy, this situation will not change.

(IK): How do you comment on Vice-President of [ultracapacitor-based energy storage innovator-ed.] Skeleton Technologies Ants Vill's statement that there is no point in pushing light industry in Estonia to work together with research universities.

Mr Vill has said that: "Rather than that, it is more worthwhile thinking about how to create an environment that could support the development of start-ups and technology companies in Estonia."

(JA): Naturally noone needs to feel pressurised, but without targeted technological innovation, our economy, especially our traditional economy, which is by far the largest contributor to GDP, can't progress.

In the field of start-ups and technology companies, we are already in a very good position and certainly should continue support in this area, but the notion that this in some way supersedes broad-based, productivity-enhancing innovation is simply not the case.

(IK): I want to finish off by asking how Enterprise Estonia could contribute to the creation of so-called 'value added jobs' in Estonia. Who in reality in Estonia should engage in job creation, business or government?

(JA): Workplaces are undoubtedly a facet of business, but the state and academia also plays a crucial role here. It is important to note that the creation of job vacancies shouldn't be an end in itself, however. Quality of life thrives with those jobs which are more than just run-of-the-mill, and these are created primarily through properly-targeted R&D, including that developed both by entrepreneurship and the universities in tandem – something which Enterprise Estonia would do well to promote.

Professor Jaak Aaviksoo is a physicist and politician and current Rector of Tallinn University. He was formerly Rector of Tartu University and is a former Minister of Defence.

The original text of the interview (in Estonian) is here.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: ERR Uudised

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