To get acquainted with Riga Technical University’s development plans and its scientists’ research for solutions to globally important economic and social problems, Latvian Minister of Economy Viktors Valainis visits RTU.
RTU presented the minister with its vision for cooperation in strengthening human capital, building research capacity, technology transfer and investment attraction. V.Valainis confirmed the Ministry of Economy’s readiness to cooperate more closely with RTU, stating that the ministry also has both ambitious development plans and various programs and instruments for development. «I want Latvian companies to make more use of the support and knowledge of Latvian scientists, developing a high added value economy, » he emphasized.
Implementing structural reforms
To increase the quality and competitiveness of education and bringing RTU closer to its ambition of the becoming a TOP 500 university, as well as to develop research and innovations with high added value for the transformation of the Latvian economy, RTU is implementing extensive structural changes. RTU Vice-Rector for Development and Finance Artūrs Zeps introduced the changes to the minister, which include the consolidation of faculties, the integration of other higher education institutions, RTU science in the ecosystem and the creation of the Innovation Vice-Rector's Service.
A. Zeps emphasized the importance of institutional funding, pointing out that the reform and the maximum effective use of the available financial resources to the university will provide additional funding for the increase in the remuneration of academic and scientific staff, increase the competitiveness of study programs and the quality of education, and strengthen its compliance with the demand of the national economy, as well as attracting more funding for science.
Institutional funding will also allow more funding to be directed to the preparation of one student, contribute to the reduction in STEM student dropout, which is not only a big challenge for the university, but also the industry, which lacks highly educated employees, and will add additional value to the study process by integrating, for example, innovation-promoting activities.
The RTU Vice-Rector of Development and Finance also voiced that lifelong education is very important for the transformation of the national economy, creating supportive conditions in which employees can always supplement their knowledge in the industry or acquire new knowledge required by the labor market. In addition, A. Zeps indicated that RTU's experience and knowledge would be useful in the implementation of this human capital strategy.
Innovation as the basis of economic growth
«80% of science in Latvia is concentrated in Riga, but there is a lack of a science park here,»
RTU Rector Tālis Juhna emphasized. Knowledge, technology, and new and emerging talents are already concentrated in one place in Ķīpsala, so RTU sees the value of developing an island of innovation here. It would have both a research and innovation contact point for science-intensive companies and industry, as well as a pilot territory for testing new technologies, along with high-tech small-scale production or pilot lines. International experience proves that by concentrating the university, industry, and start-ups in one place, productivity capacity increases significantly.
The development of the national economy and society in Latvia is not possible without innovations. «Intellectual capital is the basis of the knowledge economy, the capitalization of the results of applied research created by it,» RTU Vice-Rector for Innovation Liene Briede said in a conversation with the Minister of Economy V. Valainis.
To implement the knowledge economy approach, it is necessary to increase funding for education and science, increase the efficiency and productivity of scientific institutions, implement a long-term state policy in knowledge transfer and promote innovation, she continued, emphasizing the central role of the university in the innovation ecosystem.
«In science, we do not compete only with excellent knowledge, but also with the infrastructure for its use. There is a lack of investment in science infrastructure in Latvia,» she continued.
As an example, she cited the development of microchip technologies - the performance of Latvian scientists in the development of silicon photonics chips, including several world records in Data Center interconnection technologies, which has attracted the interest of both the world's science and business environment, which would be ready to invest in Latvia if critical infrastructure was created. It needs state support. The creation of a microchip testing and design laboratory, which would be the first step towards the production of microchips in Latvia, would require around 20 million euro. A sequential continuation would be the creation of a microchip packaging and prototyping center. By gradually increasing the number of highly educated specialists, the knowledge and technological basis for the production of microchips in Latvia would be created.
«Here is the beginning of the success story of the future,» said vice-dean of the faculty in the field of science Sandis Spolītis, while he introduced the Minister of Economy to the work done by RTU's Faculty of Electronics and Telecommunications (ETF) researchers. Photonics microchips provide faster information circulation with lower energy consumption, which is vital for the transmission and processing of large amounts of data, he explained.
Promotes scientific excellence
An example of scientific excellence would also be the creation of an innovative particle therapy center for more successful treatment of oncological diseases, research, and cooperation with industry. The initiative to create such a center has been expressed by the Baltic group of the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN), which was created for the coordinated cooperation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia with CERN. CERN has expertise in accelerator design and operation, as well as expertise in synchrotrons and ion sources, beam dynamics, control systems, and diagnostic instruments.
Kristaps Paļskis, a researcher at the RTU Institute of Particle Physics and Accelerator Technology, told the minister that the Baltic States are one of the European regions where particle therapy is not available, so such a center would open up innovative treatment options for various types of cancer in the Baltic region, and allow scientific research to be carried out that would develop more new methods to fight oncological diseases. The first job is to conduct a comprehensive feasibility study, K. Paļskis added.
Innovative technologies and biomaterials for bone tissue regeneration, face, mouth and jaw surgery, orthopedics and other fields are already being developed by the scientists of the Rūdolf Cimdins Riga Biomaterials Innovation and Development Center of the RTU Faculty of Materials Science and Applied Chemistry. By next year, scientists will be able to complete this work in the new building of the Baltic Biomaterials Center of Excellence (BBCE), which is being built on the Ķīpsala student campus. BBCE is an ambitious scientific capacity building project (GA No. 857287), in which RTU cooperates with other research institutions in Latvia and the world to increase the competence of Latvian scientists, knowledge and technology transfer, promoting the development of innovative industries, as well to add high added value products and services in Latvia. It is estimated that BBCE's contribution to the Latvian economy will be at least 70 million by 2040. euros, says project manager Professor Jānis Ločs, when meeting with the minister.
Another area where RTU develops scientific excellence with high added value for the future economy is hydrogen research, which is conducted under the leadership of Professor Andris Šutka of the Faculty of Materials Science and Applied Chemistry.