Author:
Õiglase ülemineku fondi konsortsium

Science-business cooperation is expected to support Ida-Viru County’s transition to a more sustainable economic model

The Fair Transition Fund’s consortium of Tallinn University of Technology and the University of Tartu will implement 22 research projects in Ida-Viru County over the next six years to support socioeconomic change in the region and meet the development needs of companies. The fund supports the development of entrepreneurship, research and education, which are essential for Ida-Viru County, with nearly 350 million euros. However, this is only the start of a long process ahead, as was noted at the Fair Transition Forum in Jõhvi on 22 November.  

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Regionaalminister Madis Kallas Õiglase Ülemineku Foorumil
Minister of Regional Affairs Madis Kallas at the Just Transition Forum (author: Õiglase ülemineku fondi konsortsium)

Although the number of households living in relative poverty has decreased in Ida-Viru County in recent years, the county is still affected by lower average wages compared to the rest of Estonia, a steadily declining share of young people in the population and stagnating housing development. These indicators mentioned by the Minister of Regional Affairs Madis Kallas in his presentation reveal just how challenging the situation in the region is at the beginning of the transition to a more sustainable economic model. According to Kallas, this is precisely why the changes affecting the county must be made in a balanced manner, step by step, and considering the socioeconomic situation of Ida-Viru. 

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Tallinna Tehnikaülikooli arendusprorektor Erik Puura
Erik Puura, Vice-Rector for Entrepreneurship, Tallinn University of Technology (author: Õiglase ülemineku fondi konsortsium)

Erik Puura, Vice-Rector for Entrepreneurship at Tallinn University of Technology, cited the example of the transition process in the Walloon coal mining region in Belgium, where research institutions played a significant role. Puura explained that 5–10 per cent of enterprises operating in science parks have grown out of universities, while the rest are born where knowledge and smart people meet. For this reason, increasing the presence of higher education institutions is also an important element in the development of Ida-Viru County. Both Tallinn University of Technology’s Virumaa College and the University of Tartu’s Narva College have so far focused primarily on teaching, but now, with support from the research measure, the aim is to encourage local research. 

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Tõnu Esko, Vice Rector for Development, University of Tartu
Tõnu Esko, Vice Rector for Development, University of Tartu (author: Õiglase ülemineku fondi konsortsium)

Tõnu Esko, Vice Rector for Development at the University of Tartu, expressed hope that by 2029, when the research projects launched with the support of the research measure will end, Ida-Viru County will have viable research groups that operate independently and help advance research topics important for the region. Esko called on the businesses in the area to be bolder and reach out to universities for cooperation. In light of the situation in Ida-Viru County, he also underlined the need for changes within the university so that business cooperation would be valued as much as research publications in a research career.  

Entrepreneurs look to universities for qualified professionals and to the state for support in large-scale application of laboratory results  

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Ettevõtjate vestlusring Õiglase Ülemineku Foorumil
Panel of entrepreneurs at the Just Transition Forum (author: Õiglase ülemineku fondi konsortsium)

Representatives of Eesti Energia AS, NPM Silmet OÜ, R-S OSA Service OÜ and Viru Keemia Grupp AS, who participated in the forum’s panel discussion for entrepreneurs, claimed that university-educated high-quality workforce is at the top of their expectations. There is a lack of experts in chemistry, automation and IT. They also expect that when a company finds an innovative technology that works and can be deployed here, the researchers will help develop it further and make it operate in the best possible way in the local context. “We need both basic research and knowledge, which companies often do not have at hand,” said Raivo Vasnu, the Managing Director of NPM Silmet OÜ. 

Alar Saluste, Member of the Management Board at R-S OSA Service OÜ, admitted that while the 300 million euros budgeted for the Fair Transition Fund may seem huge, it is still insufficient to develop companies. He said that the money can help achieve a lot of interesting results in the lab. To translate the results into production, however, support is urgently needed in the demonstration production stage, which, in the case of minerals, can mean dozens of tons of pilot production and building a pilot plant. It is difficult to find support for that in Estonia. 

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Teadlaste vestlusring Õiglase Ülemineku Foorumil
Panel of researchers at the Just Transition Forum (author: Õiglase ülemineku fondi konsortsium)

In six years, a tailored solution for monitoring societal changes and the development of companies  

Over the next six years, the consortium of the Just Transition Fund will carry out 22 research projects in Ida-Viru County, supporting the monitoring and analysis of societal transition processes, renewable energy solutions, the use of big data, automation, chemical valorisation of critical waste and development of energy storage devices. 

The experts participating in the researchers’ panel discussion expressed hope that over the six years, research will help both Virumaa and Narva colleges achieve a qualitative improvement also in higher education, bringing increasingly more young people to study in the region. Alar Kuusik, Senior Researcher of Communication Systems at Tallinn University of Technology, suggested that, for example, in IT education, close collaboration with businesses could be a particular bonus. 

Margit Keller, Associate Professor in Social Communication and Head of the Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Tartu, and also a member of the working group monitoring the region’s socioeconomic change, hoped that in six years, the researchers, together with local experts, will have managed to tailor a toolbox for assessing and managing societal change in Ida-Viru County. “This could be a sociological portrait of Ida-Viru County in cooperation with local people, who will help develop this analysis process further in the future,” Keller said. 

Watch the recording of the forum.   

Just Transition Fund’s webpage on the University of Tartu website. 

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