DOUBLE R&D BY 2030

Portugal 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Manuel Heitor, Minister for Science, Technology, and Higher Education, on successes since 2016, Portugal's support for start-ups, and education partnerships.

What have been the main highlights and achievements of your mandate to date?

There has been an effective process of European convergence since 2016. Our notable accomplishments include growing the budget allocation for public higher education institutions by 10% between 2016 and 2019 from EUR1.002 billion to EUR1.105 billion, with the total number of students growing by 5% between 2015 and 2018, from 356,000 to 373,000 students in the public and private sectors. The number of students enrolled for the first time in public and private higher education institutions grew from around 87,000 in 2014/15 to more than 103,000 in 2018/19, including more than 9,000 students in short vocational cycles. In parallel with the implementation of the Study and Research in Portugal program, the number of foreign students increased by 48% from 2014-2015, representing today about 50,000 students and 13% of the total number of students enrolled. Funding for the Science and Technology Foundation (FCT) increased by 24%, from EUR490 million in 2016 to EUR621 million in 2019. The number of new PhD grants supported annually has grown from 971 in 2015 to over 1,600 in 2018 and 2019, in parallel with the implementation of the Scientific Employment Stimulus Program, which includes the execution of at least 5,000 more doctoral researchers' contracts until the end of the legislature. As well, the number of social scholarships in higher education has grown from around 64,000 in 2014/15 to more than 80,000 in 2018/19.

How do you see Portugal's regional and global leadership in the IT start-up culture?

National short-, medium- and long-term strategies for the development of digital skills were set out through the National Digital Skills Initiative (INCoDe2030), so that by 2030 approximately nine out of 10 citizens are frequent users of the internet, and we increase by 50% the number IT experts in companies. The strategies include, among other aspects, providing support to creative communities in the area of inclusion and at a local and decentralized level throughout the country in close interaction with the local/regional administrations; supporting teachers in the progressive and systematic modernization of the education system working closely with the Minister of Education and related central and regional administrations; establishing regional networks of qualification and digital specialization, namely through partnerships between polytechnics, local administration, and companies namely in the regions of West-Leiria, Cavado and Ave, Nordeste Transmontano-Bragança, Castelo Branco, and Setúbal-Palmela; the establishment of a national AI strategy, with the specific involvement of the public administration, R&D centers, and companies and in close European interaction; and the development of advanced forms of computing, including the creation of the Minho Advanced Computing Center-MACC.

What are the ministry's goals in terms of national spending on science R&D?

Our goals are to double public expenditure in R&D by 2030 and multiply business expenditure by a factor of four, in close association with the creation of more than 25,000 new skilled jobs in the coming 12 years. This is possible because the previous years have created a new environment for public and private engagement in research and innovation. For example, total public and private R&D expenditure grew by EUR114 million in 2016 and EUR175 million in 2017, reaching 1.33% of GDP in 2017. This is predicted to reach 1.7% of GDP by the end of 2019. It represents an effective convergence for the Europe of knowledge since 2016, as a consequence of a clear policy of qualification and employment of qualified human resources and of scientific and academic career enhancement. The increase in R&D expenditure was particularly significant in the business sector, which increased by 12% between 2016 and 2017 and now represents more than half of national R&D expenditure.

How would you assess the balance between private- and public higher education sector?

The number of doctoral researchers in companies conducting R&D activities benefiting from fiscal support has increased by 30% since 2015 and by more than 10% between 2016 and 2017, showing a clear fiscal policy in support of R&D and innovation. The number of R&D companies benefiting from financial assistance to hire doctoral researchers has increased by 37% since 2015, including some 290 companies in 2017. The hiring of researchers by companies grew by 11% between 2016 and 2017, with the number of researchers in the active population to grow to 8.5% in 2017 compared to 8% in 2016 and 7.4% in 2015. The number of full-time researchers in higher education has grown by 9.5% since 2015. In addition, the territorial densification and institutional diversification associated with a polytechnics valorization and modernization strategy, as well as an innovation strategy and to support the growth of more and better jobs, included the creation of 21 new collaborative laboratories in 2018 under the scope of the Interface Program, after an international evaluation and considering collaboration between companies, R&D units, and higher education institutions. It includes a five-year public investment of around EUR50 million, aimed at stimulating economic and social development in all areas of knowledge, from agricultural production to digital transformation of industry, and including critical sectors such as cement, production food, space, or forests, considering critical technologies such as AI.

What are your primary ambitions and goals for the Ministry for Science, Technology and Higher Education for 2019?

We want to strengthen institutional capacity and presence in European and international networks, including the promotion of the Atlantic International Research Center (AIR Center) and the Global Science and Technology Partnerships Portugal program, including the effective strengthening of partnerships with major institutions of relevance such as MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Texas at Austin, and reinforcing the Fraunhofer-Portugal Program with the installation of a second center in Portugal in the field of precision agriculture. A new strategy was also launched to support the development of new space industries, Portugal Space 2030, and a new program is underway for the installation of new satellite launch services in the Azores, with launches planned from 2021, as well as the installation of a laboratory for the design and development of small satellites, STARLAB, in cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CAS. In addition, we are making all necessary efforts to guarantee the effective simplification of administrative procedures and reduce bureaucracy in the higher education system, science, and technology. Notably, the “more science, less bureaucracy" program, has significantly simplified the public procurement regime for R&D activities. The program of rationalization and administrative modernization of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), the National Innovation Agency (ANI), and other public entities with attributions in the financing of science, technology, and innovation was also strengthened. The procedures for renewal of social support scholarships for students of higher education were also simplified; however, overall, the simplification of administrative procedures and of bureaucracy needs to be strengthened at the level of all institutions.