Since it joined the EU in 2004, Estonia has reformed and updated its research base to the tune of €1 billion ($1.1 billion), now having strength in fields such as ecology, genetics and molecular biology. The nation spends little of its own federal funds on R&D spending, depending mostly on research projects that are linked to the EU; however, the rise in research infrastructure and development highlights the progress a small country can achieve with the support of international collaborations and effective domestic policies.
One of the smallest developed countries in the world, Estonia has a population of 1.3 million, with a research community of a little over 3,000 full-time researchers in academic institutions, and a moderate amount of small- and medium-sized technology companies. Since the 2000s, however, economic growth has boomed and, with the help of EU funds, public science spending began to rise, skyrocketing 87.5% from €80 million ($90.0 million) in 2007 to over €150 million ($170.6 million) by 2013.
The country also worked on establishing international networks, with 60% of Estonia’s published research output involving international collaborations, a share similar to Netherlands and Ireland. Additionally, the country welcomed the digital boom in the 1990s, with all Estonian schools and universities fully equipped with computers connected to the internet by 2001. Because of this, Estonia is now one of the most advanced digital ecosystems on the planet. This strong digital environment facilitates data-intensive research, with Estonia’s biobank, which now includes genetic and health information for nearly 150,000 citizens, over 20% of the country’s adult population.
The country’s government has pledged to boost government R&D spending from 0.5% to 1% of GDP by 2020.