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Science and Research in Iceland by Vilhjálmur Lúðvíksson
An important new element has come into play in economic and export growth in Iceland. Over the last 15 years, the country has increased its R&D investments by nearly 13 % each year on the average. In 2001 the level of investments reached 3% of GDP the level set by the EU 2002 Summit Meeting in Barcelona as a target to be reached by the year 2010. Iceland is thus already among the five top OECD countries in terms of research spending as a share of GDP. About 1.2 % of this figure comes through the public sector and the remainder from the private and non-profit sector. Iceland was also ranked seventh among 32 nations in terms of number of scientific publications per million capita in 2002 according to a survey conducted for the European Commission confirming earlier OECD statistics. The rapid growth of high-tech based exports in recent years attest to successful investments in R&D, as does the successful growth of the companies involved. 

The priorities in Iceland used to be on natural resource based development. The research effort was dominated by government laboratories serving agriculture, fisheries, building and the energy generation (geothermal and hydropower). In recent years the emphasis has shifted to developing new knowledge fields that can give rise to high tech growth in the future, both in new industries and in the form of innovation in the more traditional sectors. Here information technology has played a key role. Furthermore, long term investments in high quality clinical research, genomics and biotechnology research have generated a number of new start-up companies with interesting future growth potential. Based on the number per capita of scientific publications in internationally peer reviewed journals and citations to these articles, Iceland is number one in research in the humanities, clinical medicine and geo-sciences. Icelanders have also been at the top in the 4th and 5th EU framework programs in terms of numbers of projects in which they participate (relative to population) and have been leading over 25% of those projects. This is well above average and indicates the initiative and creativity of the scientific workforce.

The strength of the Icelandic science community stems from its international training. Virtually all Icelanders who pursue postgraduate education spend some of their educational career abroad. About 50% of all doctorates are taken in the USA. However, brain drain is not considered a problem. Most people return, some after a period of work bringing with them new knowledge and valuable experience and some start new business enterprises based on scientific research and high-tech knowledge combined with specialized local advantages and natural assets. There are many advantages to be found in a small well functioning society with high quality technical infrastructure and a challenging natural environment. Among them are the short communication lines between public and private partners and between the producers and users of knowledge, and the high standards demanded by consumers. Iceland is a living laboratory both in natural processes and human systems, and an excellent test-market for new technology for a variety of uses.

Article Author
 Vilhjálmur Lúðvíksson, Secretary to the Science and Technology Policy Council

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