With massive government backing, Slovenia is developing a high-tech economy, say it's ministers. Michael de Laine reports.
Proceeds from privatisation and massive government support are to be used in a bid to shift Slovenia towards a high-technology economy based on top-quality education and advanced research and development.
"A tenth of Slovenia's state property, primarily in energy production, will be invested in technology development. Information technology, biotechnology and materials technology will get government support," said Cene Bavec, state secretary for the Slovenian ministry of science and technology's department for technology and innovation.
Mr Bavec emphasised Slovenia's long traditions in technology, including advances in iron metallurgy, ship screw propellers, electricity and stone bridges.
"Now we're moving towards high technology. Value added per employee in Germany is $100,000 (Pounds 63,000). We must increase Slovenia's figure of $17,500 by developing knowledge, capital and entrepreneurship."
Slovenia's economy is growing. It had only about 10 per cent of the population of the old federal republic of Yugoslavia, which it left in 1991, but accounted for 30 per cent of its gross national product. Gross domestic product per capita in Slovenia in 1997 was $9,161; it is expected to reach $12,101 in 2001.
Slovenia spent 1.42 per cent of its GDP on research and development in 1997, 53 per cent of this in the business sector, 29 per cent in the government sector and 17 per cent in higher education. The ministry of science and technology had a budget of 24 billion tolars (Pounds 75 million) with 8.49 billion tolars going to basic and applied research and 4.28 billion tolars being spent on young researchers.
According to Janez Slak, state secretary of
the ministry's department of science, research and development, spending will be lower in 2000. Some 34 per cent will be distributed to basic and applied research, 18 per cent to training and 15 per cent to institutional funding. Less than 5 per cent of the cash will find its way to higher education. Science is funded by government money via projects with evaluation systems. There is now a move to five-year projects.
"The ministry's policies are to promote top-quality education and research, with an increasing number of students and researchers, and to facilitate the transfer of research and development results to the production sector, including integrating science into business," said Mr Slak. "Our aims include increasing economic growth, competitive ability and quality of life."
Slovenia has 340 research institutes: 65 per cent in the business sector, 18 per cent in the public sector, 13 per cent in higher education. The remainder are private non-profit institutions.
"Fifty research organisations are independent of universities, 18 being national research institutes. R&D personnel in 1996 totalled 8,451, with 3,619 in business enterprises. There are 3.9 paid researchers per 1,000 people," Mr Slak said.
Slovenia has two universities. Ljubljana's, with 26 faculties and 36,000 students, was established in 1918. Maribor, established in 1975, has ten faculties and 16,000 students.
To promote regional development, a third university is being established at Koper on the coast, about 20km south of the Italian city of Trieste. Both of Slovenia's universities have a technology park. Ljubljana's has companies, while Maribor's has nine.
Today, an economically strong and independent nation of fewer than 2 million people, Slovenia is an applicant to the European Union.
Boris Pukl, state under-secretary at the ministry's department for international cooperation, said that there is research cooperation with the EU, neighbouring countries, the United States, Japan and Israel. There are 17 technology cooperation agreements with other countries and seven more are planned. Slovenia has more than 400 bilateral projects.
"Technology in Slovenia must go through policy changes because of the EU. There are government programmes for technological development and for the adaptation of state aid to meet EU requirements, with full participation in EU programmes," Mr Bavec added.
LEADING THE NEW WAVE
Slovenia's National Institute of Biology performs basic and applied research in natural sciences, biology, environment, biotechnology and medicine. Today, it is one of Slovenia's 18 national research institutes.
The NIB has 25 research projects, mostly funded by the ministry of science and technology, the ministry of environment and the ministry of agriculture.
There are 80 employees, and international collaboration includes 24 bilateral projects in Europe, five in the United States and one in Australia.
The Jozef Stefan Institute started life in 1949 and is now responsible for basic and applied research in natural sciences and technology.
The institute transfers the results of its research and knowledge to productive applications and to the market. It was instrumental in setting up the Ljubljana Technology Park.