| LATVIA - Rooting growth in innovation
The rate of growth in the Baltic republics is among the highest in the European Union. Averaging 5.8% over the 1995-2003 period, Latvia ranks an impressive second, just behind Ireland. But that does not mean the battle has been won. Rooting growth in innovation remains a challenge for the future.
Where there’s a will
Janos Stabulnieks, director of the Latvian Centre of Technology and the conference president, believes that, “adopting a national innovation strategy is one thing, changing systems and mentalities is something else again – and much more complicated …”. Janos and virtually all the conference participants agree that Latvia is suffering from a lack of investment in research (the lowest level for any EU country), insufficient students in higher education studying science or technology, and a lack of resources in valuations and finance. This objective but severe diagnosis nevertheless implies a potential for improvement – but only if there is the will. “Our only option is to base the economy on knowledge,” he explains, hoping to convince others of the vital need to support Latvian innovation – particularly in the 60 high-tech companies with their origins in the country’s research laboratories.
Physics, oceanography, biomedicine…
For a major port town such as Riga, it is not surprising to find that its researchers have also turned their attention to oceanography. During the past decade, university researchers have participated in European programmes on describing the Baltic diatoms and the biotechnological applications of micro-algae as well as investigating the causes of the silting up of ports.
Biomedicine is another prominent research area and the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine has participated – partly thanks to Unesco funding – in European research projects on gene therapy for chronic hepatitis and on vaccines against the hantavirus, projects in which the Vilnius Institute of Biotechnology (Lithuania) was also involved. For its part, the Institute of Organic Synthesis has carried out research in partnership with pharmaceutical companies from throughout the EU as well as the United States.
Finally, this major timber exporter has contributed to innovative research on modifying the structure of its wood by injecting non-polluting plastic materials with the aim of improving the mechanical properties so that they can rival those of tropical woods. The University of Latvia laboratories participated in a total of 16 research programmes financed by the Fifth Framework Programme.