For some, Malta is one of Europe’s best holiday destinations, offering year-round sun, a unique culture and many historical and architectural monuments. But the island has also become known as a centre of technological expertise, providing the perfect test-bed, for example, for building an excellent eGovernment infrastructure. Numerous ICT-driven businesses have also sprung up as a result of the island’s commitment to ICT research.

“The size of the island makes it ideal to fine tune e-government initiatives,” explains Prof Ernest Cachia, Dean of the University of Malta’s ICT faculty. “There is the full range of government services but on a smaller scale, so we can get the results back quicker. There are advantages to being small!”

As a result the country now boasts one of the best eGovernment systems in the EU. Malta scored 94 for eGovernment in the 2012-2013 Digital Agenda Scoreboard, much higher than the EU average of 70, and 96 for transparent eGovernment, well above the EU average of 49. The end result is that almost all governmental services are now online, and Malta is considered a world leader in this field. “eGovernment reflects Malta’s strong ICT planning culture,” says Alexander Borg, a research and innovation consultant at the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA). “Investment has also helped to create important spin-offs and generate a pull-effect on the economy. eGovernment is also a better way of reaching out to citizens, and shows the world that ICT is important to the country.”

Indeed, the Office of the Prime Minister is currently contributing to an EU-funded ICT project entitled IDEALIST2014. The objective of this initiative is to reinforce the network of National Contact Points (NCP) for ICT under FP7, by promoting further trans-national cooperation on issues such as security, transport, energy and health. NCPs have been established in all 28 EU Member States (and some third countries) to provide support and encourage participation in EU ICT funding schemes. This particular project is due for completion in September 2014.

Unlocking private sector potential

Malta’s private sector has also benefitted from significant investment in ICT. “This has indeed become a significant growth sector,” says Prof Cachia. “From the gaming industry to betting, and online portals we have seen growth that is mindboggling. Companies coming to the island ask about the quality of graduates, and they are invariably impressed by the spread of expertise we have.”

The University of Malta’s dedicated ICT faculty has helped to supply the island with a stream of qualified expertise, and faculty staff have been involved in numerous EU-funded projects.

What’s more, Maltese businesses have become actively involved in cross-border EU-funded research. A good example is the ICT VENTUREGATE project, completed in 2012. This initiative, which aimed to encourage cooperation between SMEs and innovation investors, was coordinated by Maltese organisation Paragon. The project successfully developed several e-Training tools for SMEs on investment readiness, and most importantly a virtual partnership-making platform.

A similar ongoing project is the EUROPEAN INVESTOR GATE (EIG), which runs until 2015. This project aims to tackle the fact that Europe lags behind in the commercial exploitation of technology by providing entrepreneurs with better access to finance. “A key benefit of FP7 is networking,” says Mr Borg. “As a small country, we are heavily reliant on exports and trade. Participating in FP7 enables us to enlarge our capabilities.”

A social investment

The island has also been involved in a number of socially-driven EU-funded projects. In fact, Maltese participation in the EU 7th Framework Programme has been highest in the Strategic Objectives of ICT for Learning and ICT for Health.  

One ongoing EU-funded initiative – involving the University Of Malta – is the Integrated Intelligent Learning Environment for Reading and Writing (ILEARNRW) project. The aim of this project, which runs until 2015, is to develop next generation learning software that helps children with dyslexia. Another important ongoing project entitled Translational Research and Patient Safety in Europe (TRANSFORM) aims to develop data infrastructure that integrates clinical and research activities, in order to better support patient safety and clinical research. The Mediterranean Institute of Primary Care has been involved in this €9m project.

From pioneering eGovernment infrastructure to contributing to some key pan-European projects, Malta has successfully reinvented itself as a key partner in pushing forward European technological expertise. The island’s modest size has been utilised as a key strength, and as result, the country continues to punch above its weight on the international stage.

In a globalised world, Malta has demonstrated that creating jobs and growth in an age of great technological change requires flexibility, foresight and investment. The island’s commitment to collaborative research is testament to this. 

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