Set to innovate

Lena Kolarska-Bobińska
Image : Ministry of Science and Higher Education

Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, Poland’s science and higher education minister, talks with WBJ Observer about promoting innovation in the economy and increasing cooperation between universities, the academic community and business

by Ewa Boniecka

Building effective cooperation between universities and business is vital for making Poland innovative. Linking science with economic revival is the main goal of the EU’s new program, “Horizon 2020.” How are you going to deal with this challenge when business is not eager to develop effective cooperation with universities, and invest money in innovative projects?
In today’s world, where knowledge is power, innovation is a fundamental driver of the global economy. Innovation helps create new jobs, markets, industries and opportunities that we never even dreamed of. Horizon 2020 is a step forward – it’s a stepping stone towards an innovation-driven economy. One of the main goals of Horizon 2020 is to build bridges between research and the market in order to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

what is horizonPoland can use the opportunity to speed up the pace towards a knowledge-based economy. Over the last several years, our innovation-oriented policies have led to a steady increase in business sector involvement in financing R&D activities in Poland. According to the latest available data, in 2012 the value of BERD indicator amounted to PLN 5.3 billion. The number of entities that carried out research and development activities in 2012 exceeded 2,700, which is 23.1-percent higher than in the previous year.

Returning to Horizon 2020, we are taking the necessary steps to create efficient measures and instruments, supporting the synergy between Horizon 2020 and structural funds. We want Polish scientists to be more actively present in global science, which is why, based on the idea of tailor-made services, we are building a support system for Polish scientists in order to increase their chances in this challenging competition.

However, there is a growing understanding in Poland that without innovation we will not be able catch up with the West in development and compete in the global marketplace. Despite all the efforts of your predecessor, Barbara Kudrycka, to develop better cooperation between science and business, we are still not able to exploit our intellectual and scientific potential to achieve a break through in innovative activity: what can you do to change this?
The two major reforms introduced by my predecessor have built the proper framework for innovation policy that stimulates research and development. The newly built system opened a window of opportunity for students and researchers.

What I consider as one of the most important outcomes of these reforms is the gradual change in the mentality of scientists. They have become more open-minded and more confident in cooperating with business. Commercialization of research is no longer an unnecessary threat but an opportunity to succeed.
Market-driven innovation is also high on our agenda. The new Operational Program – Smart Growth – will focus on delivering better solutions for building stronger links with business and boosting entrepreneurial culture.

To make a return on investments in innovation, there is a need to turn projects into production. The problem in Poland is that the results of university research do not have commercial applications, so projects often go to waste. How can the “Horizon 2020” money improve the situation?
As shown in Bloomberg’s recent Global Innovation Index, Poland is one of the 30 most innovative countries in the world. It ranked 24th out of 215 countries that were examined, overtaking countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Hungary, China and Israel.

Poland has paid special attention to overcoming national and regional disparities in terms of research and innovation performance. The introduction of “Twinning” and “Teaming” instruments to the program will help to build a more coherent European science strategy. The main idea is to team up and bring closer together regions and scientists with a leading counterpart institution elsewhere in Europe.

Science is global, and more and more, the brain drain is being replaced by brain circulation.
As I mentioned before, we focus on bringing together funding from Horizon 2020 and from the EU structural funds so we can fully benefit from this unique opportunity for Polish science.

Our higher education system is still seen as outdated, our leading universities are high in world rankings, and many graduates are still inadequately prepared for the job market: what should be done to improve the quality of education, and to give graduates the skills needed to promote innovation in both economic and social fields?
World rankings are usually based on a university’s performance in science. The most famous ranking, the so called “Shanghai Ranking,” relies solely on research indicators e.g. the number of Noble Prize winners among alumni and academics. Therefore the teaching performance of our universities should not be assessed only with regard to their position in international rankings.

Nevertheless, we are conscious that a mismatch between the expectations of employers and the competencies of graduates remains an issue. Therefore, since 2011, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education has been taking steps to improve the quality of teaching.

The Higher Education reform of 2011 introduced the National Qualifications Framework for Higher Education. The curricula are now defined by learning outcomes, encompassing knowledge, skills and social competences, such as team work, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Another important element of the recent reform is a strong distinction between different profiles of curricula: an academic one, linked with high-quality research, and a bigger emphasis on theoretical modules, and a practice-oriented one, with a stronger emphasis on practical modules.

The above changes will be strengthened by new provisions included in the draft law of 2013 that focus in particular on the needs of the modern economy.

We believe that the steps already taken, and our new proposals, which will come into force in 2014, will help Polish graduates to successfully enter the labor market and play a significant role in transforming Poland into one of Europe’s innovation leaders.

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