The Minister for Research and Innovation, Mr. Sean Sherlock TD, today (Thursday) concluded a two day visit to Helsinki, Finland where he met with a range of Finnish research and education policy makers, funding agencies and innovators.
Minister Sherlock said the visit gave him the opportunity to gain a valuable insight into Finland’s research, innovation and education systems. The Minister heard of reforms in the Finnish higher education system, efforts to increase exploitation of knowledge as well as the creation of new knowledge, measures to support entrepreneurship and start-up companies as well as the use of evaluation and foresight to inform decision making.
Minister Sherlock noted that Finland in the early 1990s, after they suffered an economic crisis, adopted a strategy to transform the Finnish economy to a knowledge economy with significant investment in research development and innovation.
In the years that followed, this enabled Finland to overcome their financial difficulties resulting in significant economic growth and employment. Finland’s expenditure on R&D grew to one of the highest in the EU reaching around 4% of GDP. While this ratio has recently reduced to around 3.7%, it is still among the highest in the EU. This compares to Ireland’s ratio of around 2% of GNP.
Finland is currently facing a number of economic challenges due to wider European economic difficulties but is remaining steadfast in continuing its investment in RD&I to overcome these challenges. However, in doing so, Finland is adapting its science, technology and innovation (STI) strategy to ensure that it is even more effective in delivering economic recovery and growth. During the course of his visit Minister Sherlock discussed these re-directions in STI strategy with senior officials of the Finnish Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Education as well as with the enterprise development agency TEKES and the Academy of Finland. He also saw at first-hand how the Finns successfully foster entrepreneurship through a visit to the Aalto Centre for Entrepreneurship.
Minister Sherlock also delivered a keynote speech at the “2012 SHOK Summit”, a major conference examining progress in the operation of Finland’s centres for science, technology and innovation, which are known as SHOKs.
In recent years Finland has created 6 SHOK centres which are large-scale research centres involving industry and academic collaboration supported by TEKES, the Academy of Finland and the private sector. The SHOKs address key research and innovation issues in the areas of ICT, clean energy, forestry, health and well-being, mechanical engineering and the real estate/construction sector.
In his speech at the SHOK Summit the Minister outlined Ireland’s significant achievements to date in investing in STI and cited a number of current initiatives to ensure that this investment delivers further economic and social benefits.
Speaking on the topic of “Future success – Industry driven research”, Minister Sherlock said “Effective industry/academic collaboration is essential for the successful translation of the best new ideas from the lab into innovative new products and services in the marketplace. Such collaborative efforts will help to deliver good, sustainable jobs for the Irish labour force.”
Ireland and Finland are developing their RDI infrastructure in ways that are mutually complementary and Minister Sherlock and his Finnish counterparts agreed to facilitate continued interaction and further cooperation between the two countries.