TalTech Think Tank asked the question of how to build a bridge from education to economy, or in other words, how to create a sustainable policy for a more research-intensive economy. On one hand, TalTech has an important role in educating the next generation of staff for companies – engineers, company managers, logisticians, electrical engineers, IT operatives, product development managers, product designers, material experts, construction experts, etc. On the other hand, the researchers of TalTech are involved in daily research and applied research to solve new technological challenges, launch collaborative projects with industry and businesses, and work together with the public sector to solve future challenges.
The university is a diverse organisation that needs to find synergies between teaching, research, and business cooperation. The society and ministries have set high expectations in terms of competitive graduates, high-quality science, knowledge transfer to the economy, and business cooperation.
The first panel focused on the expectations of the society and the role of the university. Sille Kraam noted that the role of the university is to prepare the society for change. Madis Toomsalu, Head of LHV and an alumnus of TalTech, stated that current research is mostly done at universities but the link between the economy and universities is weak. The university is expected to be more proactive, transparent, visible, and to communicate wisely. The overarching message of the panel was that people are a key capital for universities, businesses, and the society – universities are where value is added to individuals. It was Hurt who said that if we can’t be a great nation in population we can be a great nation in spirit, or in other words, every twig counts and the emphasis must be on quality. Under the experienced guidance of Raivo Vare, the panel came to a conclusion that there is a need, there is an opportunity, let’s take advantage of these, prioritise, make plans, and keep the goal in mind. To do this, we need to create a structure, decide the action, and guarantee the necessary components for the action; moreover, the university must change internally and define its role more precisely.
The second panel focused on the challenges of intellectual property (IP) and its commercialisation. It was acknowledged that a million is too little – a billion is a big enough target. The volume of private capital is growing on the market, but there is a lack of excellent and smart ideas. Panel moderator Margus Uudam also pointed out that timing plays a crucial role in the implementation of technologies and their introduction into the economy, so not everything is one-dimensional. The academic tandem of Ustav and Saarma emphasised through colourful experiences and examples how important it is to have smart and professional commercialisation skills in research institutions – it is a matter of interest, inner passion, mentality, a will to change, as well as a sense of mission. Panellists also pointed out some examples that it is not always universities that transfer scientific achievements to economy, meaning that life is much more complicated. The need to develop skills of technology transfer and IP commercialisation became painfully obvious. If IP is owned by the university, the commercialisation of IP should be the responsibility of the Technology Transfer Office of the university, which has the freedom and capacity to work on that.
The third block of the day was moderated by Erik Puura, the new Vice Rector for Entrepreneurship of TalTech. Twelve different questions were handed out to discussion groups to find solutions to specific challenges in order to identify strategic choices for entrepreneurship for the university and to decide the focal points. For example, it is important that the university would support discovery in research, do more long-term strategic planning of research as an output for the economy for solving future problems, think about potential emerging IPs in the early stages of research planning, and take international strategic partners into greater consideration. A variety of proposals were collected to improve internal organisation and flexibility.
The fourth discussion panel focused on core infrastructure, without which competitive science and modern technical or engineering education are not possible. Research and teaching infrastructure is a large and expensive investment; unfortunately, there has been a lack of national or EU funding in the last period and the necessary finances must be found largely from own resources or through cooperation with companies. This points to the need for cooperation so as not to fragment existing resources – cooperation is needed not only within the university, but also between universities and between universities and the surrounding ecosystem, where whole value chains are formed from research to industry and from there to export to global markets.
Slides of the panellists can be found here.