Minister of Transport Kaspars Briškens visits Riga Technical University (RTU) and RTU Latvian Maritime Academy (LMA) to learn about innovations in transport and traffic infrastructure created by scientists and students. He and RTU Rector Tālis Juhna agree on the need to develop a centre of excellence for transport and communications in Latvia.
As part of the purposeful continuation of the improvement of higher maritime education in Latvia, this year RTU LMA and RTU LMA Maritime School will be relocated to the campus in Ķīpsala, where students will have more opportunities to take full advantage of the wide offer of the science university ecosystem, develop interdisciplinary cooperation, research, innovative ideas, etc. The plans also include the purchase of new simulators and the modernisation and functional extension of existing ones, cooperation with important international partners, attracting both foreign students and faculty members, establishing research partnership networks, etc., the Minister was informed by Elīna Gaile-Sarkane, Vice-Rector of RTU Studies, about the plans to improve the quality of the study process. She also emphasises the strengthening of cooperation between LJA and Liepaja Maritime College (RTU agency) in the use of common infrastructure, ensuring continuity of studies, cooperation in research, promotion of maritime education, etc.
RTU scientists already have cooperation with various companies and organisations in the traffic and transport sector, both in the field of study content development and research. In close cooperation with the industry, taking into account the market demand for high-level specialists with professional competence in the logistics sector and the labour market forecasts of the Ministry of Economics, new logistics study programmes were introduced last year. RTU Faculty of Engineering and Management (FEEM) is considered a centre of excellence for logistics education in Latvia, where it is possible both to obtain a full range of higher education and to continuously supplement it with further education and professional development courses, says Ingūna Jurgelāne-Kaldava, Associate Professor at the Institute of Management and Security of FEEM.
Cooperation could be even more intensive. Līga Gaile, Dean of the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at RTU, calls on the Ministry of Transport to establish a national research programme to address the challenges of the sector with the help of scientists. Rector T. Juhna encourages the Ministry and state companies to join the industrial doctorate programme. The programme promotes closer cooperation between research and the business sector, with PhD students working on theses on topics of importance to business development and industry involved in the research.
The introduction of institutional funding would also help to respond more flexibly to the needs of the economy, says T.Juhna. In particular, focusing on results and making the most of the financial resources available to the university will provide additional funding to increase the salaries of academic and scientific staff, increase the competitiveness of study programmes and the quality of education, strengthen its relevance to economic demand, and attract more funding for science, says Artūrs Zeps, Vice-Rector for Development and Finance. Institutional funding will also allow for more funding per student and add value to the study process, thus contributing to a reduction in STEM student attrition, increasing the number of STEM graduates and lifelong learners.
Currently, exports of services in the transport sector amount to EUR 2.5 billion, demonstrating its important role in the Latvian economy, which is why Transport Minister K. Briškens believes that Latvia should establish an Export and Innovation Council, bringing together leading players and innovators in the sector, and a Transport and Communications Centre of Excellence. He notes that digital twin and modelling technologies are of particular interest for the development of the sector, which would help in policy formulation and data-based decision-making. RTU has developed expertise in these areas.
During his visit to RTU, K.Briškens, together with representatives of the Ministry, also explores other technologies developed by scientists and students. Jānis Braunfelds, senior researcher at the Institute of Photonics, Electronics and Electronic Communications at the Faculty of Computer Science, Information Technology and Energy (FCSITE), tells the ministry how to monitor road quality with fibre-optic sensors embedded in the road surface. J.Braunfelds is the first RTU industrial PhD student to develop multifunctional fibre-optic sensor systems for a variety of applications, including condition monitoring of roads, buildings and other objects. The Institute of Photonics, Electronics and Electronic Communications is also involved in microchip research, where guests also learn about the world records that RTU scientists have set in researching how data can be transmitted as quickly and reliably as possible with smaller devices, using less power and less heat.
And Viktors Haritonovs, a senior researcher at the FCME Institute of Transport Engineering, presents innovative road construction technologies and materials, such as rubber-modified bitumen and thin-layer asphalt concrete. In the search for efficient and competitive alternatives to traditional road construction methods, the scientists validated thin-layer asphalt concrete technology for Latvian conditions, which has already been used in the construction of the Ķekava bypass.
At the FCME Minister also visits the 3D Concrete Printing Research Laboratory, where the head of the laboratory, Māris Šinka, presents future construction technologies and materials for concrete structures. At the Science and Innovation Centre, RTU student Aija Monika Vainiņa and her mentor Andrejs Puķītis demonstrate the students' achievements in space technology development - they have built a high-power rocket and technology for launching a rocket from a stratospheric balloon, which could also be used for medical research. Student Kārlis Bērziņš demonstrates an underwater drone that can be used for survey and search operations in Latvia's climatic conditions, as well as for real-time acquisition of various types of data and information about the aquatic ecosystem.