MCST strives to make innovation, technology popular among students
The realisation of the National Interactive Science Centre in Bighi and Horizon 2020, the new European research and innovation funding programme, are the main priorities of the Malta Council for Science and Technology, according to its report for 2011.
MCST chairman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando says in his message that he is “pleased” to report the government had allocated €1.5 million towards the Bighi project which is expected to cost approximately €22 million.
The centre will encompass over 3,500 square metres of indoor and outdoor exhibition space and include areas dedicated to science shows, workshops for hands-on experiments, debates and discussions, and a planetarium. It aims to create a new generation of scientists and science enthusiasts who have an active interest in science, research and innovation.
By providing fun and engaging opportunities, the National Interactive Science Centre will promote careers in science, technology and science communication. It will host more than 200 hands-on exhibits and workshops in an interactive environment. The venue will serve as an ‘edutainment’ platform to bring together students, families, and professionals to expand the science, engineering and technology human capital base.
The realisation of the centre is the task of the popularisation unit within MCST which organises science promotion and appreciation activities in the community. The council has embarked on this project to make science and technology more popular in Malta in a bid to widen the future talent pool in these areas.
“The development of the National Interactive Science Centre has remained a key pillar of the council’s work,” Dr Pullicino Orlando writes in the annual report, “in its attempts at challenging the mistaken perception that science subjects should be avoided as they are more difficult than other academic disciplines or, that science should be confined to the class room or the laboratory.”
Malta is among the so-called ‘moderate innovators’ group of EU countries according to the 2010 Innovation Union Scoreboard which was published last year. However, Malta has been classified as a growth leader with Bulgaria, Estonia, Romania, Portugal and Slovenia with an average annual growth rate well above five per cent.
This first edition of the new scoreboard revealed that Malta has experienced growth in just over half of the indicators –13 out of 24 – while eight indicators have registered a decline. It can be noted that two indicators have remained the same, while no data is available for the indicator on venture capital, the report said.
Notwithstanding eight indictors experiencing a decline, there was only one indictor which registered a drop of over 10 per cent, namely the indicator on public-private co-publications (16.3 per cent).
These results are indicative of the progress Malta is making in research and innovation, the MCST said.
Towards the end of 2011, the council launched the consultation process on the new draft national strategic plan for research and innovation which spans to 2020. This plan builds on past achievements and takes into consideration the current economic realities and national and European developments, in particular the EU flagship initiative ‘Innovation Union’ which was launched towards the end of 2010.
The draft National R&I Strategic Plan 2011-2020 proposes 74 recommendations that are grouped under six pillars, namely human resources, research infrastructures, international cooperation, innovation, policy design to action, and funding.
It was decided that the vision, mission and strategic principles expressed in the 2007-2010 strategy are still valid and were retained in the 2011-2020 plan. On the basis of the feedback, the strategic document will be updated and forwarded to Cabinet for approval, MCST said.
The Seventh Framework Programme bundles all research-related EU initiatives under one roof, playing a crucial role in growth, competitiveness and employment. The council is the national contact point for the EU’s FP7 funding for science, technology and innovation and is responsible for supporting local organisations, including the government, in their bid to fund projects in these areas.
By the end of 2011, Malta had a total of 113 FP7 projects, tapping into approximately €11 million in funds. Malta placed in fourth in FP7 participation and funds allocated per capita. This year, the FP7 unit within MCST will be developing a researchers’ directory to map expertise in the different sectors in Malta.
Besides FP7, the council provides government financing in forms of grants for research, development and innovation in science and technology.
One such funding instrument is the National Research and Innovation, to support knowledge transfer between academia and industry.
The programme focuses on the four priority sectors, namely environment and energy resources, ICT, value added manufacturing, and health and biotechnology. The government allocated €1.6 million for the R&I Programme 2012, an increase of 58 per cent over 2011.