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EU recognised Estonia’s IT-capability: creation of IT competence centre one step closer to becoming reality

The European Union has emphasised that Europe needs new and geographically more dispersed centres of excellence in research. Proceeding from that, the UT, the TUT and the University of Edinburgh submitted a proposal to the European Union to create the IT competence centre in Estonia. The idea to create the centre of excellence was successful in the first round of the competition.

“The fact that the Estonian IT proposal is so successful proves that our research and development work has a great development potential. It is a recognition to the ongoing successful cooperation between the UT and TUT: the centre of excellence in IT EXCS, the doctoral school, the Software Technology and Applications Competence Centre (STACC), and the programmes of the IT academy aiming to increase the quality of IT studies. We are focussing on our mutual competences and cooperation and create opportunities for the development of new research groups and fields of study,” said the Head of the Institute of Computer Science Professor Jaak Vilo, one of the leaders of the proposal.

According to Vilo, the Estonian research and development activities could make great progress, provided it is planned smartly and in a coordinated manner. In turn, this will help to relieve the lack of top-level specialists in the entire IT sector.

The development and creation of the competence centre is supported by the Teaming action of the European Union framework programme for research and innovation Horizon 2020 that aims to develop new centres of excellence in research and technology in European countries.

A total of 169 proposals were submitted across Europe, including four on behalf of Estonia, coordinated by the Estonian Research Council and supported by the Estonian Research and Development Council. In the intense competition, 31 proposals from 14 countries were successful and made it to the second round. Of the four proposals submitted by the Estonian Research Council, only one made it to the second round: the joint IT proposal of the UT Institute of Computer Science as one of the most quickly developing international research centres of Estonia and TUT “EE-IT - Centre of Excellence on Connected Digital Economy” for creating the competence centre.

According to Vilo, ICT greases the wheels of economy, as it helps to create new products and business models and make the “old economy” more efficient. “Digital economy involves opportunities to connect people, businesses, e-services and products in a new way, while the security of digital services must be ensured. The aim of the new centre of excellence is to remarkably increase the critical mass of research and development activities of the field, at the same time focussing on key multidisciplinary areas of economy,” said Vilo.

Vilo believes that the advantages of Estonia are the IT success stories of the state and the private sector, which need to be developed further and added export capacity, but also the excellence of research in several more particular fields. “The new centre of excellence would remarkably increase the capability to develop necessary technological solutions and enhance the research excellence required for that as well as the training of top-level specialists,” said Vilo.

Rector of the University of Tartu Professor Volli Kalm added that thanks to the future IT competence centre, Estonia, which has become the role model to many larger countries with its IT success stories, will be able to offer training and development activities ranging from economy to national defence and from security to e-law. The competence centre should form the Estonian and European study and research activities and industry relations into one unified whole.”

The next step is participation in the second round, where the European Union wants to see a specific action plan – business plan – which also shows how the research excellence of the developed centre will contribute to the economic growth of the country as a whole.

In the end, the European Union will finance 5–6 projects across Europe. In addition to the funding from the European Union, amounting to 15–20 million euros during five years, the state must invest in the centre in approximately the same amount.