In a seek for cohesion between science and business

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We have interviewed one of the guest lecturers in the trainings planned for the project of embedded systems – director of the association Knowledge Economy Forum Edgaras Leichteris.

He has graduated from the Faculty of Law of Vilnius University in 1999, and in 2002 – International Business School of the same University. Lawyer’s and manager’s qualification provided a good basis for looking for solutions of complex problems. During 2002–2005, he had worked for Public Enterprise VšĮ Centrinė projektų valdymo agentūra and participated in developing quality management system when dealing with the administration of EU support programmes. Since 2005, he has been directing the Knowledge Economy Forum. E. Leichteris’s interest areas: development of knowledge economy, networks of innovations, science and technology parks, development of integrated centres (valleys) for science, studies and business, state strategic management, reduction of administrative burden for business, improvement of EU structural funds support management, promotion of science and business cooperation. E. Leichteris has to deal with these and similar questions while participating in the activity of various governmental working groups.

 Dear Edgaras, in this long list of interest areas and activities, we do not see ‘embedded systems’.

E. Leichteris. This is because my activity is not directly related to embedded systems, and for the participants of the trainings I mostly emphasize the importance of political context.

Not very long time ago you would have been called an ideologist. In these days, excessive seriousness would annoy people, and suggest excessive self-importance, however, the essence remains the same: trainings are supposed to provide a certain starting point, a certain platform for those willing to engage in the area of embedded systems, inventing and cohesion between science and business. What is required? Is it comprehension of the processes taking place in the world?

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Consultations for the participants of the Business promotion Project InoLaboratorija on business development issues : Paulius Lučinskas, Raimundas Balčiūnaitis, Donatas Austys ir Edgaras Leichteris

E. Leichteris. For many years, soviet regime had been educating any but enterprising people. Entrepreneurs were meant to deal with certain aspects of legal responsibility. The aim was to raise good executors and specialists able to perform specific manufacturing tasks; they used to work mostly with separate modules or units. These separate modules gave rise to the first successful business companies after the recovery of independence (biotechnology, lasers, information technologies, etc.), however later we encountered large shortfall. There were no new investments in science, and speedy public market-type businesses were gaining popularity. When I entered university, professors praised us and said we were lucky we have chosen university rather than Gariūnai, and that we will not regret of this decision in the future. Nevertheless, I think that Gariūnai would have been very useful for acquiring certain skills.

Are we moving away from or are we approaching Gariūnai?

E. Leichteris. What do we have today? During the period of European Structural Funds Programs 2007–2013, there were significant investments made in science, and Knowledge Economy Forum has participated in this activity very actively. We hardly believed that 10 percent of the support from structural funds will be allocated for scientific purposes; we thought about gaining at least 5 percent. Thus education and science received a considerable injection despite the fact that not all willing were able to use it: some were lacking administrative skills of how to use this support reasonably, and act under the strategies prepared with respect to future perspectives. Also, there was a lack of state and regional policy directing investment to the most perspective areas. Up to the present day, we lack a forward-looking and future-oriented education policy; however, we have many separate elements that are being funded. Not that much is needed to find perspective contact points between science and business.

There is no need to look far for examples, because we have science valleys gradually developing.

E. Leichteris. Actually, the main tool for seeking this cohesion should have been national complex programmes rather than these valleys.

How did it happen that national complex programmes have been pushed aside, and the main strategic task has not been accomplished?

E. Leichteris. National complex programmes started to tackle the paradoxical problem which occurred during 2004–2006 as a result of support from structural funds. Scientists received funding for working with modern equipment but did not receive money for acquiring this equipment.

This is quite common phenomenon during reforms.

E. Leichteris. Something went wrong. National complex programmes were meant to form certain strategic insights: what should be managed and what should be changed; and science valleys were supposed to be one of those instruments for actually implementing those changes. However, when politicians started using new certain concepts, university scientists willing to receive funding rigorously lined up in a row immediately after hearing a magic word “valley”. In the end, almost all the priorities and potential of science were united under the flag of valleys. National complex programmes were prepared not adjusting execution mechanisms to the envisaged activity of valleys.

And then liberals came…

E. Leichteris. In very truth, liberals were responsible for the activity of the Ministry of Education and Science at that time. It was difficult to understand for the newcomers how the national complex programmes developed by the previous government must correlate with valleys, therefore it was decided to perform integration at the higher level. Joint research programmes have emerged. Everything got so tangled that barely someone could explain what the priorities of our science are.

Instead of synergy between the national complex programmes and valleys, everything we’ve got was a mess. Politicians in power are constantly changing, and the ones left to deal with this mess are scientists.

E. Leichteris. I would not blame politicians for ignorance. In many cases, we could see superficiality, which is quite common for all the governments. Unfortunately, in my opinion this is not about to change, therefore, we have to be prepared. This is what politicians live on. The more I travel, the more convinced I become that situations in other countries are very similar. Politicians adapt to public opinion, and scientists represent only a small segment of population. As a result, in the list of priorities, science takes one of the last positions. However, this does not mean that there are no people understanding the importance of science in the lower state management levels.

Is it difficult to understand that reforms are successful when implemented from bottom to top? This has been demonstrated by international practice; however, our brain is more likely to take over the experience when it is demonstrated by forceful decisions or even shock therapy.

E. Leichteris. There are some positive flashes. When I was taking part in various valley commissions, I used to hear representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of economy saying: “Since we, the bureaucrats, cannot know all of the most important scientific and business priorities or promising directions, let the universities tells us…” Nevertheless, we have also faced a completely different practice which has already became a part of Lithuanian culture: scientists were promised funding and asked for defining priorities, and universities presented lists of equipment they would like to buy. However, none of the universities offered how the policy of science should be formulated in the state limiting itself only with satisfying its own needs.

Universities were satisfied with setting-up concert repertoire.

E. Leichteris. However, I keep to the opinion that valleys were started to be formed bottom to top. Partly, this is the reason why valleys are more oriented towards universities rather than to business. First, business was quite active participant; however, having lost in the discussions with scientists it somehow receded. This was not good. If business would have continued fighting rigorously, today we would have greater cohesion between business and science.

The second process which also has been implemented from bottom to top was formation of the insight Life and Learning Lithuania 2030 (lith. Mokslioji Lietuva 2030): Higher Education Monitoring and Analysis Centre under the Ministry of Education and Science responsible for vision-making process was established, scientific community of approximately 200 scholars was established, people responsible for drafting and generalizing offers. The working group of experts for Lithuanian Higher Education, scientific research and public was managed by the rector of Kazimieras Simonavičius University prof. dr. Arūnas Augustinaitis. I myself had a chance to manage a group composed of businessmen or representatives of institutions related to business – science and technology parks, Lithuanian Innovation Centre, etc. Following the methodology prepared by Fraunhofer Institute of Germany, we had live and coherent discussions. We have arrived at a certain vision; however, here we encountered certain problems. Since the majority of texts were written by scientists, politicians could not understand some parts of the vision. Unfortunately, there was no funding for rewriting the texts in more understandable language. Thus, the insight Life and Learning Lithuania 2030 could not find its way to the political level.

To be continued No 10.

Interviewer Gediminas Zemlickas